On Thursday, 40 Senate Republicans and one Democrat (Ben Nelson, of course) successfully filibustered a cautious attempt at extending widely agreed-upon tax cuts and necessary unemployment benefits. This, despite having voted to extend similar tax cuts for years. What gives?

What a heartwarming, come-from-behind victory for those plucky Republicans! Despite being vastly outnumbered by Democrats, GOP senators used a magical power known as "the threat of a filibuster" to prevent the government from taking slightly less money from its citizens in the hopes that those citizens might spend that money on things. American things!

The "jobs bill," as it was called (because literally everything has to have the words "the jobs" in The Jobs D.C. right now) consisted mostly of deficit-financed benefit extensions, tax cuts, and infusions to state Medicaid accounts. It would have helped the economy by preventing layoffs and keeping money circulating while people search for employment. Democrats had reduced its price tag to the relative bargain of $30 billion.

And yet, Republicans voted against it—even though they'd voted for deficit-financed tax cuts and emergency stimulus spending several times in the past. Now, why would they go and do a thing like that?

  • They genuinely don't want to finance tax cuts with deficit spending, out of principle. LOL.
  • They are intentionally sabotaging the economy. This is Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow's position—that Republicans are venal scum (go on, I'm listening) who want to take out the economy while Democrats are in charge and then lay the blame at the Democrats' feet. Devious!
  • It's not the economy they want to fail, but the government. Greg Sargent suggests that the GOP really doesn't give a shit about the economy—they just want to "prove" that the government sucks at helping people by, uh, specifically causing it to suck at helping people.
  • They actually have a principled opposition to deficit spending—they just didn't have it till now. Both Ezra Klein and Jonathan Chait think that Republicans have convinced themselves that deficit spending is bad, despite formerly supporting it, because they see that opposing it could put them back in power.
  • They have a different definition of the word "fail." Former Gawker writer Alex Pareene, now covering the appletini beat for Salon, writes that Republicans "literally don't give a shit about the poor and unemployed," and are basically happy with a stratified economic system featuring high structural unemployment. I like Alex's theory because it has a curse in it.

So take your pick! Our Senate is full of craven political assholes, principled idiot assholes, or just plain old assholes. Either way, millions of people won't get their unemployment benefits extended, thousands will be laid off, and the economy will remain as sluggish as before, and probably more so. But at least we didn't increase the trillion-dollar deficit just to help a few lazies and poors!

[Pic via Getty]