Dems finally extend unemployment benefits despite GOP filibusters

If you're wondering why it takes Congress so long to move forward with even the most popular legislation, look no further than the extension of unemployment benefits that passed the Senate yesterday.

It passed with 98 votes but the popularity of the final vote doesn't reflect the shenanigans that the measure had to endure in order to get there.

According to Huffington Post's Ryan Grim, first the Republicans tried to festoon the extension with unrelated amendments -- some of which having to do with further sanctioning ACORN, which, let's face it, isn't worth holding up unemployment checks for hundreds of thousands of jobless Americans.

From there, Republicans tried to filibuster the extension three times, and only after the third filibuster effort was Harry Reid finally able to get enough votes for cloture to end the filibuster and move the thing to a full vote (Jim DeMint (R-SC) voted against ending the third filibuster).

The whole thing serves to illustrate a major hangup in the legislative process. Namely, the number of Senate filibusters have reached an all-time high. So have the number of cloture votes from Harry Reid to break the obstruction and get to an up-or-down vote on the floor. Nearly 120 cloture votes took place in the 110th Congress compared with only around 54 in the 109th Congress. There have been 30 so far this year with more than the entire second half of the 111th Congress still to come.

In other words, the Republicans are filibustering at a record clip, but Reid is letting them get away with it rather than forcing them to break out the recipe books and the adult diapers and filibuster for real -- live on C-SPAN. Make them stand up and talk without a break. Old school.

The only problem with that strategy is that an issue like unemployment benefits or, what will will surely be the next big filibuster battle, health care reform, simply can't wait. So that leaves what's called a "reconciliation vote." It's a controversial end-around to avoid the filibuster, requiring only a simple 51-vote majority -- used by President Bush to pass his tax cuts. And it might be used by President Obama to pass health care reform if Democrat Ben Nelson and Independent Joe Lieberman join the Republican filibuster of the bill.

One way or another, while the Senate plays games, the rest of us are dealing with real life. Maybe if the Senate on both sides of aisle paid a little more attention to the real world and less attention to parliamentary tricks, they'd be faring a little better in the approval polls. Just a hunch.

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