Should We Extend Unemployment Insurance?

Some say the 99-week limit is too short

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With long-term unemployment at an all-time high, unemployment insurance benefits for many of the nation's unemployed are running out, meaning they have lost this meager source of income. This includes the 1.4 million jobless workers who have exceeded the 99-week limit on benefits. The Senate has resisted calls from House Democrats and others to pass a measure that would extend unemployment insurance. Is this the right decision? Should Congress extend the benefits?

  • Senate Battles Over Extension vs. Tax Cuts Talking Points Memo's Brian Beutler reports, "For weeks, Senate Republicans have filibustered an extension of unemployment benefits on the grounds that Democrats aren't willing to cut spending or raise taxes to pay for them. At the same time, the Bush tax cuts are set to expire, and Republicans want them to be renewed. ... Democrats want to preserve the Bush tax cuts for people making less than $200,000-$250,000 a year -- but only for them. Allowing them to expire for wealthier people would raise hundreds of billions of dollars over 10 years, which could allow them to offset the spending Republicans currently decry."
  • How Much Does Each Cost? The Washington Post's Dylan Matthews finds, "The unemployment extension proposal that Harry Reid is trying to pass has a one-time cost of $33 billion. That's for one year, and then the additional cost vs. the baseline is zero thereafter. So let's compare that temporary bump up in the deficit with four proposals (PDF) for reforming the estate tax." Matthews finds that the tax cut plans would cost between 10 and 20 times as much as the unemployment extension. "Supporting estate tax cuts but not unemployment benefits indicates something about a politician, but it's hardly proof of a deep, serious interest in cutting the deficit."
  • Stunning Hypocrisy The Washington Post editorial board fumes, "Senate Republicans, committed as they are to preventing the debt from mounting further, can't approve an extension of unemployment benefits because it would cost $35 billion. But they are untroubled by the notion of digging the hole $678 billion deeper by extending President Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans." They call this evidence of "the GOP's refusal to practice the fiscal responsibility it preaches." The New York Times' Paul Krugman adds, "the notion that tax cuts pay for themselves has no empirical support. And yet the GOP leadership -- which claims to be oh so worried about the deficit -- is willing to stake America's solvency on its belief that tax cuts are free."
  • House Dems Fight Obama, Senate for Extension The Washington Post's Greg Sargent writes, "House Dem leaders feel like they've done a whole bunch of heavy lifting to pass jobs-related measures -- while the Senate and the White House have effectively dithered. And, crucially, it's House Democrats who are likely to pay the price at the polls this fall over this failure. ... The House passed an extension to unemployment benefits weeks ago, and have passed a host of other jobs-creation measures, too. But the Senate is stymied on jobs and unemployment. ... House leaders feel that the White House and Senate leaders could be doing more to force the issue -- and that Obama could be showing more urgency about jobs and unemployment and driving the Senate harder to take action."
  • Don't Forget Need for Job Creation The Economist's Free Exchange notes, "it's important to remember that the best thing one can do for the unemployed is to get them employed. ... What should be clear is that America's current unemployment policies are woefully unprepared to handle a labour market like the present one. As important as it is to keep families out of destitution, it's also necessary to focus on ways to keep unemployed workers in those families attached to the labour force and prepared to get and succeed in a job when one is finally available. Otherwise, the long-term unemployed will linger on growing ever less employable, joblessness will become structural, and America can get ready to face its own bout with European-style hysteresis."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.