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Each Senator's Record on Unemployment Benefits (and a Bit of Fiscal Responsibility)

August 4, 2010 - by Conor Kenny

This man makes no sense.Holding members of Congress accountable is hard when you can’t remember how they voted, so at OpenCongress we put together a scorecard to track how each and every senator voted on the contentious issue of extending unemployment benefits over the last two years. After crunching the numbers, we discovered a few things we expected (Democrats really, really wanted to extend unemployment benefits), a few we didn’t (Republicans were surprisingly diverse in their votes), a few head scratchers (Missouri’s senators were the least likely to show up to vote despite having a 9.1% unemployment rate) and at least one irrefutable truth (Ben Nelson has a whacked-out definition of “fiscal responsibility”).

The scorecard contains twelve votes over the last year and a half on bills or amendments where the primary issue was extending unemployment benefits. The amount of time the unemployed could receive benefits varies from state to state, but Congress passed blanket extensions several times since the beginning of the economic downturn. The crucial issue in most cases – as claimed by senators opposed to extending the benefits – has been that the bills have not been offset (paid for) by tax increases or spending decreases elsewhere, and thus they add to the federal government’s growing debt. (Some senators have grumbled about the adverse incentives benefits provide, including Dianne Feinstein, though she has a 100% record supporting the extensions.)

As such, it’s fair to think of this as a debate basically between those who think that unemployment benefits are a crucial enough support to those suffering most from the economic downturn (not to mention being a good stimulus program because the funds are pretty much immediately put back in the economy) that they should be funded without raising taxes or cutting spending during a recession vs. those who think that the federal debt is one of the most important economic issues we face and that everything should be done to keep it from growing.

At the bottom of this post, however, we point out a wrinkle in this position: most senators who opposed adding to the deficit also supported a trillion-dollar budget-busting tax cut in the form of repealing the estate tax, without any spending cuts or tax raises. There’s more details below, but suffice to say, this does make the “fiscal responsibility” position of many senators look more than a little tenuous.

We’ve picked out the interesting bits immediately below, but you can find the full “scorecard” of votes on extending unemployment benefits – including sortable rankings, vote details and no-show votes – at OpenCongress. If you or one of yours is unemployed, there’s also lots of great resources over at the community-driven Benefit Wiki project on the OpenCongress wiki.

The line-crossers

Votes on unemployment benefits were a largely partisan affair, but there were exceptions. There were 62 Democratic senators in office from 2009 to 2010, and 42 of them supported extending benefits 100% of the time. Six senators caucusing with the Democrats, excluding the seriously ill Robert Byrd, voted against benefits or failed to show up to vote more than once:

Republicans really did have a Big Tent when it came to unemployment votes. Of the 41 Republican senators in office from 2009 to 2010, 23 voted for unemployment benefits at least a third of the time and three voted for them more than not: George Voinovich (Ohio) supported extending them 58% of the time and Susan Collins (Maine) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) each supported extending them 75% of the time. The hardcore anti-benefits voters were Jim Demint (S.C.), who didn’t cast a single vote in favor of the extensions and Tom Coburn (Okla.) and former southern Democrat Jeff Session (Ala.), both of whom voted for benefits only once.

Who didn’t even show up to vote?

Also of note were those senators who decided not to show up for unemployment votes. Only 24 senators missed any votes, but eight (excluding the seriously ill Robert Byrd) missed more than one:

Is unemployment not an issue in Missouri? (This recent George Packer article in the New Yorker is an excellent read on why getting many senators to show up is part of the general disfunction of the chamber.)

Schizophrenic fiscal responsibility

Finally, because the number-one issue raised by opponents of the various unemployment measures was that they weren’t paid for and expanded the deficit, it’s useful to look at a vote on one amendment to the final unemployment bill (H.R. 4213) that also wasn’t paid for, to the tune of $1 trillion over ten years: a repeal of the estate tax. The vote on this amendment (which failed, 39-51), which would have cost more than the entire rest of the bill, generates some ugly conclusions about certain senators when looked at through the lens of “fiscal responsibility”:

  • Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) has a pretty incomprehensible stand on fiscal responsibility, voting to dramatically expand the deficit through the estate tax repeal while publicly declaring that the reason he could not support the last unemployment benefit vote was that “in my view it could jeopardize the recovery and would add to our already enormous deficit.” (It is unclear if Nelson thinks the estate tax repeal’s addition to the deficit would not “jeopardize the recovery.”) At the time, he also pointed out that “on April 13, 2010 the Nebraska Legislature adopted LR538, a resolution noting that the national debt has continued to grow, generating concern from economists, legislators and taxpayers across the country and that stated, ‘The Legislature remains committed to seeking a federal balanced budget.’” (It is unclear if LR538 contained a provision that said “except for repealing the estate tax.”) To be fair, Nelson supported extending unemployment benefits 58% of the time, but after staking his reputation on being a deficit hawk, it’s hard to rationalize his vote on the estate tax.
  • Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) has an altogether consistent stand on fiscal responsibility – she’s against it. Lincoln voted to extend unemployment benefits 92% of the time while also supporting the budget-busting estate tax repeal.
  • As a group, Senate Republicans are not very consistent with their fiscal responsibility. The only Republican who consistently voted against adding to the deficit by extending unemployment benefits and, well, failed to vote for adding to the deficit by repealing the estate tax (he didn’t vote) was David Vitter (R-La.), and it’s doubtful that he actually opposed the amendment.
  • Only three Senate Republicans generally sided with the unemployed over heirs and heiresses. The three who voted against the amendment also generally supported extending unemployment benefits: George Voinovich (Ohio), Susan Collins (Maine) and Olympia Snowe (Maine).
  • As a group, Democrats also failed to demand that every bill be paid for, with most supporting extending unemployment benefits every time, though with the exception of Lincoln and Nelson, they all voted against the estate tax repeal.

This selective definition of fiscal responsibility wasn’t always the case, as former Reagan Office of Management and Budget director David Stockman reminded us this weekend in a New York Times op-ed:

Republicans used to believe that prosperity depended upon the regular balancing of accounts — in government, in international trade, on the ledgers of central banks and in the financial affairs of private households and businesses, too. But the new catechism, as practiced by Republican policymakers for decades now, has amounted to little more than money printing and deficit finance — vulgar Keynesianism robed in the ideological vestments of the prosperous classes.

The whole op-ed is an interesting read, but any value judgements aside, Stockman gives a bit of history to show that the new version of fiscal responsibility only applies to the spending side of the equation, not to taxes. Further proof of this was recently found by the folks at TalkingPointsMemo. Whatever Ben Nelson and the Senate Republican leadership (and Blanche Lincoln?) are doing, it has little to do with balancing the budget.

In any case, you can see each of the votes on extending unemployment benefits and how each senator voted over at OpenCongress.

Here’s the rankings table (Note that rankings go from most-supporting to least-supporting because that’s what was easiest to do in Excel. It is not meant to imply that extending benefits was the “good” position.):

Senator Party State Votes to
Extend UE
Percent Rank Missed
Votes
Daniel Akaka D HI 12/12 100% 1 0
Max Baucus D MT 12/12 100% 1 0
Michael Bennet D CO 12/12 100% 1 0
Jeff Bingaman D NM 12/12 100% 1 0
Barbara Boxer D CA 12/12 100% 1 0
Sherrod Brown D OH 12/12 100% 1 0
Roland Burris D IL 12/12 100% 1 0
Maria Cantwell D WA 12/12 100% 1 0
Benjamin Cardin D MD 12/12 100% 1 0
Thomas Carper D DE 12/12 100% 1 0
Robert Casey D PA 12/12 100% 1 0
Kent Conrad D ND 12/12 100% 1 0
Christopher Dodd D CT 12/12 100% 1 0
Byron Dorgan D ND 12/12 100% 1 0
Richard Durbin D IL 12/12 100% 1 0
Dianne Feinstein D CA 12/12 100% 1 0
Al Franken D MN 12/12 100% 1 0
Kirsten Gillibrand D NY 12/12 100% 1 0
Carte Goodwin D WV 1/1 100% 1 0
Kay Hagan D NC 12/12 100% 1 0
Daniel Inouye D HI 12/12 100% 1 0
Tim Johnson D SD 12/12 100% 1 0
Edward Kaufman D DE 12/12 100% 1 0
John Kerry D MA 12/12 100% 1 0
Amy Klobuchar D MN 12/12 100% 1 0
Carl Levin D MI 12/12 100% 1 0
Jeff Merkley D OR 12/12 100% 1 0
Barbara Mikulski D MD 12/12 100% 1 0
Patty Murray D WA 12/12 100% 1 0
John Reed D RI 12/12 100% 1 0
Harry Reid D NV 12/12 100% 1 0
Bernard Sanders I VT 12/12 100% 1 0
Charles Schumer D NY 12/12 100% 1 0
Jeanne Shaheen D NH 12/12 100% 1 0
Arlen Specter D PA 12/12 100% 1 0
Debbie Ann Stabenow D MI 12/12 100% 1 0
Jon Tester D MT 12/12 100% 1 0
Mark Udall D CO 12/12 100% 1 0
Tom Udall D NM 12/12 100% 1 0
Sheldon Whitehouse D RI 12/12 100% 1 0
Ron Wyden D OR 12/12 100% 1 0
Paul Kirk D MA 4/4 100% 1 0
Evan Bayh D IN 11/12 92% 43 0
Mark Begich D AK 11/12 92% 43 0
Thomas Harkin D IA 11/12 92% 43 1
Herbert Kohl D WI 11/12 92% 43 0
Mary Landrieu D LA 11/12 92% 43 0
Frank Lautenberg D NJ 11/12 92% 43 1
Patrick Leahy D VT 11/12 92% 43 1
Blanche Lincoln D AR 11/12 92% 43 1
Mark Pryor D AR 11/12 92% 43 0
John Rockefeller D WV 11/12 92% 43 1
Mark Warner D VA 11/12 92% 43 1
James Webb D VA 11/12 92% 43 0
Russell Feingold D WI 10/12 83% 55 0
Bill Nelson D FL 10/12 83% 55 1
Susan Collins R ME 9/12 75% 57 0
Joseph Lieberman I CT 9/12 75% 57 1
Claire McCaskill D MO 9/12 75% 57 2
Robert Menendez D NJ 9/12 75% 57 2
Olympia Snowe R ME 9/12 75% 57 0
E. Benjamin Nelson D NE 7/12 58% 62 0
George Voinovich R OH 7/12 58% 62 0
Robert Byrd D WV 5/10 50% 64 5
Samuel Brownback R KS 5/12 42% 65 0
C. Saxby Chambliss R GA 5/12 42% 65 0
Thad Cochran R MS 5/12 42% 65 0
Charles Grassley R IA 5/12 42% 65 0
Jon Kyl R AZ 5/12 42% 65 0
George LeMieux R FL 5/12 42% 65 0
Richard Lugar R IN 5/12 42% 65 0
Pat Roberts R KS 5/12 42% 65 3
Richard Shelby R AL 5/12 42% 65 0
Roger Wicker R MS 5/12 42% 65 0
Lamar Alexander R TN 4/12 33% 75 0
Michael Crapo R ID 4/12 33% 75 0
John Ensign R NV 4/12 33% 75 0
Lindsey Graham R SC 4/12 33% 75 1
James Inhofe R OK 4/12 33% 75 0
John Isakson R GA 4/12 33% 75 1
John McCain R AZ 4/12 33% 75 0
Mitch McConnell R KY 4/12 33% 75 0
Lisa Murkowski R AK 4/12 33% 75 2
James Risch R ID 4/12 33% 75 0
David Vitter R LA 4/12 33% 75 0
Robert Bennett R UT 3/12 25% 86 2
Christopher Bond R MO 3/12 25% 86 3
Scott Brown R MA 2/8 25% 86 0
Richard Burr R NC 3/12 25% 86 0
Bob Corker R TN 3/12 25% 86 1
Orrin Hatch R UT 3/12 25% 86 0
Kay Hutchison R TX 3/12 25% 86 2
John Thune R SD 3/12 25% 86 0
John Barrasso R WY 2/12 17% 94 0
Jim Bunning R KY 2/12 17% 94 1
John Cornyn R TX 2/12 17% 94 1
Michael Enzi R WY 2/12 17% 94 0
Judd Gregg R NH 2/12 17% 94 3
Mike Johanns R NE 2/12 17% 94 0
Tom Coburn R OK 1/12 8% 100 1
Jefferson Sessions R AL 1/12 8% 100 1
Jim DeMint R SC 0/12 0% 102 1

 

Some quick analysis of the above rankings:

  • 42 senators have perfect voting records on extending unemployment benefits (i.e each time the question of extending benefits came to a vote, they voted in favor). All of them are Democrats, and, in fact, senators with perfect records on unemployment benefits make up 71% of the Senate Democratic caucus.
  • Only one senator has voted against extending benefits every single time. That distinction belong to Sen. Jim DeMint [R, SC]. South Carolina’s unemployment rate is at 11%, but despite this dissonance between the unemployment situation in his state and his lack of support for extending benefits, DeMint, who is up for reelection in November, looks like a shoo-in against hi enigmatic Democratic challenger, Alvin Greene.
  • Sen. Susan Collins [R, ME] has been the most supportive Republican for extending unemployment benefits. She voted for the extensions more frequently than 5 Democrats (or senators caucusing with the Democrats). The Maine unemployment rate is 7.7%, well below the national average.
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Comments

PolicyOgre 08/04/2010 9:37am

this is a great article. really puts a few things in perspective.

beenblue 08/04/2010 4:04pm

Tier 5 GOOD,JOBS BETTER. Were begging for scraps, and I`m tired of being afraid in the “LAND OF THE FREE, AND THE HOME OF THE BRAVE.” I might be over the top with this, but I feel that company`s that left our country so as to increase their profits in another with slave labor,and massive tax breaks, are in my opinion ANTI-AMERICAN and should be boycotted by the people of THIS country immediately!!! NO MORE OUTSOURCING, we need to stop the insanity of letting corporate America, and foreign corporations suck the life out of the nostrils of middle America. I feel that anyone, or any party who does not share in the recovery of this Nation with immediate action, only shows themselves to be enemy`s of the state, and all their rehearsed rhetoric and sophistry is just an admission of guilt.“UNITED WE STAND OR DIVIDED WE FALL”

ExGOP 08/04/2010 7:25am

TO ALL MY FELLOW UNEMPLOYED AMERICANS … LET YOUR VOICES BE HEARD AND DON’T STOP FIGHTING FOR YOUR RIGHTS, AND THE RIGHTS OF THE 99ERS!

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION AT THE FOLLOWING WEBSITE:
http://uspoverty.change.org/petitions/view/the_99ers_need_a_tier_v_added_to_unemployment_benefits

THIS COULD BE YOU! ECONOMISTS PREDICT JOBS WILL NOT BE BACK BY NOV. 30TH! LET’S START NOW TO HELP AVOID THE CRAP WE JUST WENT THROUGH.

P.S. PLEASE FORWARD THE PETITION LINK TO FRIENDS AND FAMILY MEMBERS TO SIGN. WE STILL NEED 9,000+ SIGNATURES TO REACH THE 50,000 GOAL.

ExGOP 08/04/2010 4:34pm

Here’s the link to todays interview with Senator Stabenow (D-MI) on the Ed Show.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32297869/ns/msnbc_tv-the_ed_show/

ExGOP 08/04/2010 1:11pm

BREAKING NEWS (MSNBC) – Senator Stabenow introduces a bill for the 99ers “The Americans Want to Work Act”. She say’s to contact our local reps to request that they support this bill!

Thank you Senator for stepping up for the 99ers!

RyanRhino 08/05/2010 4:55am

Has anyone from FL recieved benefits yet for the recent extension? I have not yet. I have attempted to claim weeks but it says none are available even though my info sheet shows a balance available and says I have weeks to claim. Just wondered if anyone else has had any luck. I have not been able to get in contact with anyone from the office. The message just says everyone is busy helping someone else and to call back later.

Abaratarrr 08/04/2010 3:10pm

The Americans Want to Work Act (S.3706)

Tier 5 – Unemployment Insurance

  • What it Does: Provides 20 weeks of additional unemployment insurance for states with 7.5% or higher unemployment. This tier will benefit the people who have exhausted all of their benefits.
  • Retroactive Eligibility: Would apply retroactively to everyone who has exhausted all of their previous tiers in recent months. However, benefits would not be paid retroactively. (Example – If you exhausted your benefits 3 months ago, you would be eligible to begin your Tier 5 at the date of enactment. You would not, however, be paid out for the 3 months in which you did not receive benefits. If you are going to exhaust your benefits in 2 weeks, you will move right onto Tier 5 and receive your 20 weeks).
  • Requirements: People who are unemployed still need to meet current UI law requirements such as job searches.

http://stabenow.senate.gov/infocus/AmericansWanttoWork.html

katieddit 08/04/2010 6:08am

Before the last vote, I sent an email to every single congressman/woman that voted against the unemployment extension. Only one of them responded and that was Nevada. I found it interesting that he voted against the extension considering that the unemployment rate in his state is 14%, as he stated himself. I would suggest that everyone who follows any bill that is not passing because of petty popularity contests do the same and send an email to the one’s to refuse to pass a good bill into law. I actually changed my party affiliation to independent because of my anger toward ALL of the parties.

PolicyOgre 08/04/2010 9:42am
in reply to katieddit Aug 04, 2010 6:08am

it is common policy for congressman/women to ignore or forward to the proper disctict any opinon mail they get from people who are not their constituents. dont waste your time ending e-mails to representives that are not your own.

PleaseHelpTheUnemployed 08/04/2010 10:51am

Ben Nelson is one of the few senators who hasn’t evolved because he is very ugly and still looks like a caveman. Haha!!!

Kerlynne 08/04/2010 11:46am

We need to do something. I too wrote to all the senators and wondered if any
of them would even read/see what I wrote. Then I called as many as I could. They still voted on a standing bill and didn’t even approach the addtional $25 stimulus that was withdrawn. Though I believe the fact that we all did some kind of contact made them pass the bill, we need to take this time before it ends in November or we are all going to be out on the streets. We can sign the bill above but we need to contact our congressmen more. The fact is more companies are outsourcing and selling to foriegn investors and illegal immigrints are draining our budgets and other programs that don’t work are still getting funding. WHY isn’t anyone doing something about these??

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Spam Comment

Rationalview 10/01/2010 10:42am

With all that is going on in NJ politically, I cannot believe that a democratic senator wouldn’t show up and vote to help the unemployed in our state. What’s up Mr. Bob Menendez? We, the unemployed democrats, need your support and Tier V. If we can’t count on you – how can you expect to count on us???

Abaratarrr 08/04/2010 12:12pm
Link Reply
+ -2

I would like to point out that tom coburn is the only republican that I am aware of that has suggested a tier 5 for people that have ran out of extensions. He insists that it is paid for but he has offered a dozen ways to pay for it. He does not seem to be getting support from either party. Coburn is one of I think only 3 or 4 senators total(the other 2 or 3 are democrats) that have acknowledged that the 99ers exist and need help.

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