After the Great Recession left 1 in 10 Americans without a job, Congress set up a program to extend unemployment benefits for as long as 99 weeks, eventually reducing that to 73 weeks in the hardest-hit states. Last month, the House and Senate adjourned for the holidays without renewing the funding—cutting 1.3 million people off just in time for the new year.Senate Democrats floated legislation to extend the benefits once they returned to Washington in January. But they don't hold a supermajority of the Senate, and the threshold of 60 votes required for passage suggested that the legislation wouldn't go anywhere. However, six Republicans sided with Democrats in Tuesday's vote to advance the bill.Such triumph may be short-lived, however, as Washington Post explains: The measure still faces big hurdles in the Senate and longer odds of passing the House. … That sets up a delicate negotiation. Of the six Republican senators who voted yes Tuesday—Collins, Portman, Heller, Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Dan Coats (Ind.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska)—five said they were unlikely to support the legislation as it is currently drafted. The six voted with 54 members of the Democratic caucus to approve a motion allowing the measure to move ahead, but Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) will need to clear a second 60-vote hurdle to bring it to a final vote.Unemployment has become a hot-button issue on both sides of the aisle, the Post continues, with Republicans fighting "public perceptions that they are insensitive to those who are still struggling in the slow economic recovery."As members of Congress battle it out over the coming months, those "struggling" will be forced to wait and see just how much they'll be able to rely on the government in the future—if at all.
Kathleen Jercich is an assistant editor at In These Times. Her work has appeared in Sacramento News and Review, BUST Magazine and on The Rumpus and Bitch Media blogs.