This week, Democrats find themselves trying for the third time to pass a 30 day extension to unemployment benefits. And each time they try to pass an extension, Republicans find someone like Tom Coburn, Jon Kyl, or Jim Bunning to shutdown the Senate to delay its passage.
Democrats have responded to past filibusters of unemployment extensions by shutting down all other business in order to overcome the procedural hurdles set by Republicans. Eventually, a few moderate Republicans in swing states cave and the extension passes. However, by holding unemployment benefits hostage each month, conservative Republicans are making it exceedingly difficult for Congress to perform the basic functions of governing.
To avoid this, Democrats have tried to pass a year long extension, but Republicans refuse to let Democrats pass a year long extension. Unemployment extensions have always been considered routine emergency spending requests. Since the creation of unemployment insurance in the 1930's, whenever unemployment has stood at 8%, Congress has always passed long term extensions without controversy. Conservative ideologues in an unprecedented move are insisting that if Democrats want to pass a year long extension that they take money slotted for other stimulus efforts in order to pay for an extension. Democrats have refused because cannibalizing the stimulus would slow down the economic recovery.
In doing this, conservative Republicans are winning a war of attrition aimed at exhausting and intimidating Democrats. By holding hostage routine legislation like unemployment extensions, they make Democrats afraid to pass more serious jobs legislation like the House passed in December.
So if conservatives aren't willing to let us go small on jobs, then let's go big. We should push direct government hiring programs like the Local Jobs for America Act that could create or save a million jobs. We need to fight for programs that directly give people jobs. It's difficult to argue against a project that gives someone a job.
Enough Republicans will likely fold when forced to choose between jobs or no jobs, as has already happened with past unemployment insurance votes. Republicans, although wanting to paint Democrats as incompetent on jobs, are even more afraid of being painted as anti-jobs.
Furthermore, seeing the popularity of Democrats rise with the passage of health care reform, some Republicans don't want to be seen as the "Party of No". We have seen this when Sen. Bob Corker urged Republicans to compromise on financial reform, and Sen. Lindsey Graham broke ranks on clean energy. Even Scott Brown is so worried about being portrayed as the 'Party of No' that he recently declined an invitation to appear at a Tea Party rally with Sarah Palin in Boston.
However, we can only peel off Republicans from their party's obstructionist leadership if we draw clear lines between being for jobs and being against jobs. If Democrats get stuck in a quagmire of monthly unemployment extension fights, they will never be able to push major jobs legislation like the Local Jobs for America Act.