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Benefits for survival

Even if he ultimately votes against a bill to extend jobless benefits, Indiana Sen. Dan Coats deserves some credit for voting with the Senate majority to consider the proposal.

Incredibly, though five other Republican senators joined Sen. Joe Donnelly and all other Democrats in the vote, many in Congress seem ready to let the much-needed push for a three-month benefit extension founder in the waters of petty partisanship.

The need for this program still is there. The Great Recession may have ended for some of us, but not for those who have been unable to get back to work.

Historically, federal jobless benefit extensions have been instituted during periods of economic travail and ended when the national workforce was demonstrably back on its feet.

The latest extension was instituted in 2008, at the beginning of the Great Recession, when George W. Bush was still president and unemployment, which was at 5.6 percent nationally, began to climb precipitately. Normally, the extra benefits would be continued until the jobless rate had come back down to that 5 percent to 6 percent range again.

But recovery this time has been slow. National unemployment is still at 7.3 percent. In Indiana, it’s 7.5 percent, and in the Fort Wayne metro area, 6.7 percent.

When Congress allowed the extension to expire in December, 1.3 million unsuccessful job-seekers were left without benefits.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner mock the purported new era of bipartisan cooperation by making help for desperate families contingent on impossible new requests of President Barack Obama.

McConnell has offered to support extension of jobless benefits if Obama will just delay implementation of Obamacare for a year. Boehner says he won’t even let the matter be brought up in the House unless the president offers cuts to offset the jobless payments and includes a plan to get everybody back to work.

Nathan Mehrens of Americans for Limited Government even aimed directly at Coats, lecturing him in a press release as though the longtime conservative lawmaker were some kind of wild-eyed tax-and-spender.

“Sen. Coats should be working at undoing the policies that are really holding the economy back and preventing people from finding work,” Mehrens wrote.

Easy words, easy openings to score political points. But ideologues and Capitol Hill obstructionists didn’t have to wait for their next check for $242 each week, as 19,000 job-seeking Hoosiers did until their benefits were cut off last month. As the Indianapolis Star’s Maureen Groppe reported this week, 25,400 more Indiana citizens will lose their benefits during the first half of this year unless Congress acts. Those folks might enjoy writing press releases and posturing in front of the news cameras, too, but they’ll be too busy trying to survive.