The Senate Tuesday took a crucial step toward restoring emergency unemployment benefits to about 1.3 million people, but no checks are going out yet—and won’t until Congress stops its partisan bickering over the issue.
The 60 to 37 Senate vote to consider extending the aid for three months was 2014’s opening salvo in this year’s war over how to narrow the gap between the nation’s rich and poor. The jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed expired December 28 because Congress failed to act last year.
Easing income inequality is a key piece of both the congressional Democratic and White House agenda this year. The Obama administration has pledged a push for a higher minimum wage as well as aid for the long-term unemployed.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., made the Democrats’ priorities clear just before Tuesday’s vote.
"For too many Americans, the bright headlines touting good economic news don’t match the darker reality they face as they sit at the kitchen table juggling the household bills," he told the Senate. Debate on the bill is expected to continue this week, with a final vote likely later in the week
At the White House, Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, echoed that theme Monday.
"This is not designed to go on forever. It is a temporary lifeline in difficult times that our country has relied on for well over a half-century,’ he said.
Republicans countered that the Obama administration, entering its sixth year, has had ample time to correct any inequity and was simply engaging in more deficit spending to prop up a sluggish economy.
"Here we go again to treat a symptom of a disease," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama. "But the tragedy is that the policies of this administration are driving this poor growth record."