For the second week in a row, the U.S. Senate has failed to take action on a tax extenders bill, with both of Maine’s senators voting to maintain a Republican-led filibuster that prevented a vote from taking place.

The immediate losers will be the 1.2 million people, including 30,000 Mainers, who will start seeing their unemployment benefits expire. The next will be state governments, including Maine’s, which were counting on the federal government to come through on pledges to send support for state Medicaid programs, which will mean state governments will have to rewrite their budgets in midstream.

In Maine, that will mean coming up with $86 million in cuts to already-strapped state programs to make up for the shortfall.

Both major parties in Washington are blaming each other for the failure to achieve a workable compromise on this bill, and there is indeed enough blame to go around.

Republicans are taking advantage of the public’s growing concern over the national debt — something that didn’t concern GOP lawmakers when they were passing budgets that simultaneously cut taxes and increased spending when they controlled the government. Democrats have used the “jobs” bill as a vehicle for spending programs that would not stimulate job growth. And, as Sen. Olympia Snowe has pointed out, they have tried to reduce the cost of the package with an overly broad tax exemption that would hurt small business at just the wrong time.

Democratic leaders appear satisfied with a loss that creates an election issue they can use against Republicans in November.

The time has come to break up the package and hold votes on the elements that have real impact on people’s lives.

At a time when the economy is not producing jobs, cutting off unemployment benefits is wrong, even if it would add to the deficit in the short term. Senators should be forced to vote up or down on this vital lifeline.

The same is also true for aid to the states. Cutting federal support now would likely mean public sector layoffs, adding to joblessness and eroding vital public services.

It’s time to stop playing politics on these issues that deeply affect people’s lives. Senators should not go home for the Fourth of July recess without taking meaningful action.


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