How do you trim a bill to provide unemployment benefits to laid-off workers in the millionaires' club of the U.S. Senate? First, you take food out of the mouths of the hungry by cutting food stamps by $6 billion. Then you reduce health care for the poor by cutting state aid for Medicaid by $8 billion. And finally you enforce the racial and rural digital divide by refusing funds for broadband projects to the tune of another $2 billion.
And still it isn't enough for the Republican Party. Sadly, negotiations broke down again Wednesday on the long-delayed effort to extend unemployment compensation. Citing fears of increasing the deficit, GOP senators continue to say no to anything proposed by the Obama administration and the Democratic majority in Congress.
With a procedural vote scheduled for Thursday, supporters of working-class families seem two votes shy. The Washington Post writes: "Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) set the procedural wheels in motion for a climactic vote on the legislation as soon as Thursday. Despite days of talks, a senior Democratic aide said Reid had been unable to persuade any Republicans to support the measure, leaving him at least two votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a GOP filibuster."
The AFL-CIO and civil rights groups have pushed for support of the bill. The trade union federation said, "It's time to tell Republican senators we've had it with their jobless aid blockade. So far this month, their refusal to extend unemployment insurance has caused nearly 1 million jobless workers to lose the little they have to survive on."
Labor is urging phone calls to 1-877-442-6801 to demand the Senate pass the bill.
The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights has also joined the fight. It is urging the Senate to support the legislation and extend jobless benefits through the end of the year, stating that doing so "will help the economy recover while providing badly needed assistance in today's historic economic crisis."
The civil rights leaders go on to point out that over 1.2 million workers have lost benefits by the end of last week.
Will the GOP listen? Only if forced to.
Frustrated by the ongoing stalemate in Congress, civil rights and labor groups have called for a national march for jobs and justice in Washington on Oct. 2. The march will be held under the theme of One Nation, One Dream.
The march has the support of the NAACP, SEIU, the United Auto Workers and the AFL-CIO.
Commenting on the need for the march, George Gresham, president of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, told The New York Times, ""It's very annoying to see the tea party folks on television all the time as if they're speaking for working people, while all they're doing is divide working people and push our agenda back, both racially and economically."
The announcement of the march comes as a pleasant surprise. Huge efforts are also being mounted by the very same democratic coalition to get out the vote and defeat Republicans this fall. Rarely are such marches organized during an election year. Conventional wisdom might suggest election struggles are best served by concentration of efforts. Conventional wisdom in this case might be wrong.
One might recall the conventionalists doubted the electability of President Obama and pooh-poohed the notion that youth, Blacks and Latino first-time voters would show up at the ballot box. Some even heaped scorn on the use of the Internet and social networking as an organizing tool, a technique that was at the center of the Obama election strategy.
The Obama election coalition, it appears, will seek to reenergize these same voters in the mid-term elections. Novel organizing techniques, including rallies, sit-ins and marches, combined with social networking, may well make, and not break, Democratic chances this fall.
Photo: PW/Marilyn Bechtel