One more unemployment check to a worker without a job might keep him or her in an apartment or a house. A $400 rebate check to a senior citizen or a disabled veteran might mean a meal tonight instead of nothing to eat.

But to Sen. John McCain, Republican candidate for president, they are “legislative pork barrels” that he cannot be bothered with.

McCain’s fellow Republicans in the Senate have blocked a bill that would have added these measures to the president’s widely criticized economic stimulus package. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama left their campaign trails Feb. 7 and went to the Senate to try to end the Republican filibuster. But McCain stayed put, choosing not to back eight other Republican senators who joined Democrats in voting against the Republican stonewall.

The Senate’s 59-40 vote fell one short of the 60 needed to end the Republican filibuster. If McCain had joined his eight Republican colleagues, millions of unemployed and low-income workers, seniors and veterans would be better off.

The bill would have extended unemployment benefits and provided tax rebates for 20 million poor people including seniors and disabled veterans.

McCain aides said the Arizona senator opposed these measures, and also objected to several other provisions in the bill including increased home heating assistance for low-income families.

Labor unions considered the Senate package that McCain opposed an improvement over the original House bill. The AFL-CIO had also urged lawmakers to include a temporary increase in food stamp benefits, saying this would be an efficient way to pump money quickly into the economy.

The AFL-CIO has also criticized McCain for his opposition to fiscal relief to hard-pressed states. The federation has called for acceleration of job-creating infrastructure projects that could boost local economies.

Reacting to the Republican stonewall on the stimulus additions, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said: “They said no to helping 20 million seniors and no to 250,000 disabled vets. They said no to those who have lost their jobs and no to small businesses that are suffering in the Bush economy. They said no to helping American families pay their heating bills and to millions trying to avoid foreclosure.”

McCain appeared to be more worried about currying favor with the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington than he was about what he could do to help grassroots Americans suffering from the economic crisis. At the time of the Senate vote, McCain was just a few blocks away meeting with the right-wing CPAC and could have easily walked over to break the filibuster.

The “stimulus package” that eventually passed the Senate Feb. 7 includes no extension of unemployment benefits and no aid for those who can’t pay to heat their homes.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, in a statement, condemned the omissions and said these items were “cruelly” and “ironically” left out of a package to stimulate the economy.

“Providing unemployment benefits is one of the most efficient ways to stimulate the economy, since jobless workers are likely to spend immediately. A Labor Department study estimates that every dollar of unemployment compensation boosts Gross Domestic Product by $2.15.”

McCain has an overall AFL-CIO rating of 17 percent. In 2006, the most recent year for which the labor federation has tracked congressional voting records, McCain voted against nearly every labor-backed bill that came up for a vote. He has earned 0 percent ratings from many AFL-CIO member unions. This makes his labor record little better than that of the notorious Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, who has an 11 percent rating. Clinton and Obama have ratings of 93 and 97 percent, respectively.

Last year McCain voted against the Employee Free Choice Act, which labor considers a top priority for a new administration. That bill would allow workers to form a union as soon as a majority indicate their desire for union representation by signing a pledge card. Both Clinton and Obama support the EFCA.

jwojcik@pww.org

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