If a Republican does something, it’s good government. If Barack Obama proposes the very same thing, most Republicans call it communism or worse. That was the case with Romneycare, and the most recent example is the extension of unemployment benefits.
Benefits for 1.3 million Americans will expire December 28th because Congress went home for a totally undeserved holiday vacation without extending them. Americans who have been unemployed over 6 months and whose regular benefits are exhausted can receive extended benefits to serve as a safety net to help them feed their family and keep a roof over their heads. That program runs out at the end of this month meaning no more checks.
The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) estimates that the 1.3 million who will be cut off in 2014 will soon swell to 5 million as more regular benefits expire.
Republican members of Congress refused to raise the benefits, and would not agree to the compromise Budget if any extension of benefits would have been included. Democrats were forced to agree to leave the extension out in order to avoid a government shut down in January. President Obama has repeatedly asked Congress to extend the benefits, but Republicans have refused.
Many of the same Republicans who criticize President Obama for suggesting the benefits be extended were in Congress when George Bush asked for benefits to be extended. And the Republican-controlled Congress obliged by extending benefits five times without uttering a peep. All five times a majority of Republicans in Congress voted for the extension. The Hastert rule was in effect and nothing came to the floor without the support of a majority of the majority.
What is different now than when Bush was president beside the fact Bush was white and a Republican? For one thing, unemployment is higher now than any time Bush asked for benefits to be extended. It was 6% under Bush, 7% now. Secondly, the deficit is lower now than the last time Bush and Republicans extended benefits in 2008. That fiscal year, the deficit, which Obama inherited, was a trillion dollars. It is half that much now.
There were some other differences the five times Bush raised benefits. A couple of times they were targeted at specific hard-hit sectors of the economy like the airlines after 9/11, and victims of Hurricane Katrina. However, twice they were across the board extensions like Obama is asking for including the extension in 2008. The economy is still recovering from the same recession it was in when Bush last increased benefits.
Republicans like Rand Paul and others say unemployment benefits prevent the unemployed from “getting off the couch and getting a job.” To qualify for benefits, the recipient must be actively looking for work. There are an estimated three people out of work for every one job opening. It defies logic to say cutting off benefits will encourage jobseekers. The vast majority would rather have a real job than unemployment benefits that amount to a percentage of their former paycheck.
Cutting off benefits now for those who need them most is unprecedented said Brad Stone of the CBPP. “At 2.6 percent, the long-term unemployment rate is at least twice as high as when any of the emergency federal UI programs that policymakers enacted in each of the previous seven major recessions expired,” Stone wrote.
Senate Majority leader Harry Reid said unemployment benefits will be the first order of business in 2014—after taking up the nomination of Janet Yellen for the Federal Reserve. There are two questions. One, will the measure get 60 votes to allow it to be passed by the 55 Democrats? Secondly, if it passes the Senate, will Boehner even allow a vote on it in the House?
What is certain is this is a total buzz kill for 1.3 million families this Holiday season. Once again, Republicans play their favorite role of the Grinch that stole Christmas.