Delay in Filling Byrd’s Seat Spells Trouble for 2.1 Million Unemployed

Created: July 08, 2010 13:45 | Last updated: July 31, 2020 00:00

Yesterday, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) told reporters he hopes to hold a special election to replace Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) in November, rather than waiting until 2012.

Manchin said he will ask state Attorney General Darrell McGraw (D) for a legal opinion on the issue. If McGraw finds an earlier election is allowable, Manchin will ask the legislature to change the state’s election law to allow for the earlier election when it reconvenes later this month. He said he will not appoint a successor for the seat until McGraw gives a legal opinion on the issue.

“Two and a half years, for me, to appoint somebody to replace this giant of a person in Robert C. Byrd, is far too long,” Manchin said. “To assume that we can appoint someone longer than some people can get elected, go through the process and serve, doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t think it makes sense to a lot of West Virginians.”

One way or another, Manchin will appoint a temporary placeholder to vote on behalf of West Virginians until Byrd’s successor is in place. But Senate Democrats were counting on that person being on the Hill and voting very quickly — by Monday, when Congress comes back into session, if possible. It now seems that until McGraw provides an opinion, Manchin will not name the temporary successor. And until he names the temporary successor, Senate Democrats do not have enough votes to pass the unemployment extension held up for two months.

That means trouble for millions of Americans eligible for federally extended unemployment benefits but not receiving them, because Congress has not re-approved the extension. Every day that Manchin waits, and the Senate vote waits, around 50,000 more stop getting checks. By the start of next week, that means 2.1 million people since the extension expired at the end of May. By the end of next week, that means around 2.4 million.

This has the White House and congressional leadership very concerned; reportedly, representatives from both have been on the phone with Manchin to urge him to hurry. “West Virginians should decide what process is best for them,” Bill Burton, a White House press secretary, told The L.A. Times. “But with so many pressing national issues, they should be represented at full capacity as soon as possible.” But thus far, Manchin hasn’t budged. So the unemployed — more and more of them — wait.