Yesterday, the lame-duck Democrat-controlled House defeated another extension of unemployment benefits by a vote of 258-154, which was short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage under special fast-track rules the Democratic leadership imposed. According to the Wall Street Journal, Majority leader Steny Hoyer said the bill would be brought back up again on November 29, the day before the benefits are set to expire.
So the Democrats are continuing with their strategy of fast-tracking the bill over and over, forcing Republicans to repeatedly vote against it. They may think this is a good idea rhetorically—"The Republican Party doesn't care whether you have a Christmas or a way to fund your mortgage or a way to put food on the table for the next three months," said Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington, in just one of many similar soundbites—but that message seems to be backfiring. They've tried it every time these extensions have come up, trundling out tired "Republicans-are-mean" press releases. Instead, voters got the message that as difficult as choices like these are, Republicans are not interested in adding to the deficit. And that led to the Big Shellacking.
Current unemployment benefits—even before this extension—provide federal funding for up to 99 weeks to laid-off workers. That's almost two years of "temporary" unemployment benefits, not paid for in any way. At what point do federal unemployment benefits become welfare? Most voters know that at some point, we've got to start paying for what is slowly becoming another federal entitlement program. The voters may be ahead of some of the politicians on this one. [Read more about unemployment.]
The Democrats in leadership made a choice: they could have brought this unfunded bill up under slower, regular rules needing a simple majority vote, or they could do it under special fast-track rules that needed a two-thirds vote. If they had chosen the former, it would have passed. But they chose the latter, and it failed.
Why would they do that? Perhaps they just wanted to demagogue about Republican grinches before Christmas one last time. But could it be that the leadership didn't want it to pass on purpose? Maybe there's a method to their madness. Maybe, like Republicans and some Blue Dogs, they didn't want it to pass unfunded either, and now they've bought themselves 10 days to work out a compromise. Maybe they actually heard the voters' concerns about spending. [See a roundup of political cartoons on Democrats.]
Otherwise, why Democrats would want to continue to show voters that they support unlimited, unfunded spending is beyond me. The Democratic leadership should offer $12.5 billion in spending cuts by November 29 and take credit for the resulting bipartisan vote that would be near-unanimous. It would send a great message to voters that Democrats got the message. Plus it's the right thing to do.