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Kyl in No Real Hurry to Extend Unemployment Benefits

Moments ago, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) took to the chamber floor with a strange claim about the urgency surrounding legislation to extend unemployment insurance.

“The benefits haven’t run out yet,” Kyl said. “We’re going to pass this before the benefits run out.”

It’s tough to decipher exactly what he means. Roughly 400,000 folks exhausted their federal unemployment benefits in September, with another 200,000 projected to do the same by the end of October, according to a recent study by the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group. By the end of the year, NELP estimates that 1.3 million Americans will have exhausted their benefits unless Congress steps in with an extension. Each day the Senate dallies, another 7,000 people go off the rolls.

The crisis is due most simply to a dearth of available jobs in a down economy. But there are also regional factors. State-based unemployment benefits normally run for 26 weeks, but the federal government has stepped in during the recession with several extensions pegged to the severity of a state’s jobless rate. That disparate federal intervention — combined with the vastly different management of state unemployment programs — has created a patchwork of different benefit systems across the country. And as ProPublica has pointed out, some states have managed the chaos much better than others.

Kyl claimed that Democrats are to blame for stalling legislation to extend unemployment benefits because party leaders are resisting consideration of several unrelated GOP amendments.

“We could have been done with this bill 24 hours ago,” Kyl said. “We didn’t ask for the delay.”

But Republicans also don’t seem to be in much of a hurry. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said the slow pace of the Senate is a blessing of design, shielding the country from de Tocqueville’s feared “tyranny of the majority.”

“Unlimited debate. Unlimited amendment,” Alexander said. “There’s no need for the United States Senate if we don’t have that. … This is the body that protects the minority view.”

Earlier in the day, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) offered his own theory about why some lawmakers seem content to crawl toward passage of the unemployment benefits extension: they’ve simply been sheltered from the crisis.

“Not very many of our colleagues really know any unemployed workers,” Brown said. “We don’t spend our time with people who are really suffering.”

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