So now that health care is done with, the Republican Party needed a new issue to take and blow up into a huge hullabaloo about government spending. They could have picked any number of things, but they (specifically Tom Coburn) decided to go for extending unemployment benefits. No longer an issue about helping those in need during our economic downturn, no, now it’s a microcosm about our Democratic leadership and its fiscal irresponsibility.
In fairness, this isn’t just about extending unemployment benefits, it’s also about where the money will come from. The Democrats want it to be considered an “emergency” fund, whereas the GOP insists it should be a part of the PAYGO system and be taken entirely from leftover stimulus money.
“The fact is, an extension to help American families was passed unanimously in the House before it was blocked by a handful of Senate Republicans,” said Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “The only point some Senate Republicans have succeeded in making is that they are out of touch with the harsh reality that some families all across America are facing today.”
Republicans respond that they’re not opposed to extending unemployment benefits but want to offset the $9 billion cost with spending cuts elsewhere.
“We both want to extend unemployment benefits,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), the GOP’s No. 3 leader. “The Democrats want to do it by adding to the debt. Republicans don’t want to add to the debt.”
Both have a point, to an extent.
The thing is, and forgive me for taking this in purely political terms, the Republicans stand on the shakier ground. Leaving unemployment extensions up to the PAYGO system means that we could, conceivably, run into a situation where, lacking the funds to pay for the benefits on the spot, millions of Americans get dropped from the payroll. It’s happening now, as a matter of fact.
This might be acceptable if the GOP wants to take the stand that the reason all of these people are unemployed is that they’re lazy and shiftless. Then the argument can be made that the government isn’t going to drive itself into bankruptcy for the benefit of people who won’t get up off their lazy asses and get to work.
However, if we agree that the reason unemployment rates skyrocketed was thanks to government ineptitude, then now all of these millions of people are getting hosed by Uncle Same twice. The message now is “hey, the government screwed up and now you lost your job, but we’re not going to go out of our way to help you out.”
Ideally this would be the kind of thing that is dealt with as needed and the money half of the equation will be worked out as we can handle it. This is not a situation of “reckless spending”. It’s not a baseball stadium or a gigantic abstract art exhibition. Helping those in dire straits is a prime example of necessary spending, far more than the pair of imperialistic faux-wars we’re in the middle of.
If the Republicans want to set themselves up for victory in 2012, forming a blockade against giving the needy health care and grocery money probably isn’t the way to go.
ADDENDUM: Just to keep on goin’, the real kick in the pants with all this is that it’s coming under the mantra of “these are tough times, we need to tighten our belts and take the bitter medicine.” Meanwhile, suggestions that we up taxes on the wealthiest 5% or impose some new fines are being treated like absolute attacks on freedom and prosperity itself. If the government withholds help for those who’ve lost their homes, that’s American. If the government asks those with the most money to kick in some help, that’s un-American.
Worst of all, these are the same people who’ve damn near prospered during the collapse.