Wednesday marks the beginning of the end of extended unemployment benefits for about 2 million Americans. A bill to extend the benefits past the end of December was blocked by House Republicans in mid-November and last night failed to pass in a Senate voice vote. As The Wire wrote early last week, opponents of the bill refused to support extending benefits unless they were funded by spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.
Amid disagreement, some members of Congress are searching for a potential compromise. According to National Journal, Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) has proposed extending Bush tax cuts only in exchange for continuing the current unemployment insurance. A Democratic Senator told The Huffington Post Tuesday that debate over the extensions could continue for weeks, but in the meantime bloggers are giving their two cents on what should be done and how:
- Without Money, the Unemployed Can’t Spend “Unemployment benefits help drive the economy because the jobless tend to spend every dollar they get, pumping cash into businesses,” writes AP economics writer Paul Weisman. He explains that the money given to the unemployed “ripples through the economy, into supermarkets, gasoline stations, utilities, convenience stores. That allows businesses to hire more people, who, in turn, spend more money.”
- Why Not Take From the Rich? Pat Garofalo at Think Progress finds a contradiction between Republican positions on extending unemployment benefits and extending the Bush tax cuts. “Of course, these same Republicans have no problem extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy without corresponding cuts,” he wrote, pointing out that “the average millionaire will receive $103,809 in tax breaks next year if the Bush tax cuts are extended. Unemployment benefits, meanwhile, average $290 per week.”
- Democrats Aren’t Standing Up for Themselves Greg Sargent at The Washington Post and Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic both focus on Ohio Governor Ted Strickland’s comments blaming Democrats for allowing unemployment benefits to end and not allowing Bush tax cuts to expire. “The problem isn’t that Dems aren’t capable of winning an argument, it’s that they don’t think they’re capable of winning a protracted political standoff, even on an issue where the public is on their side, once Republicans start going on the attack,” Sargent writes. “They seem to set their goal early on at salvaging a compromise, rather than going for the win. As a result, they tend to telegraph weakness at the outset, sending a clear message that they’ll essentially give Republicans what they want as long as they can figure out a way to call it a compromise." Jonathan Cohn echoes a similar sentiment, writing that “many Democrats are simply too scared to fight right now. They think the merits of arguments don’t make a difference—that, between Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, they just can’t win media arguments anymore.”
- Unemployment Benefits Are Always Extended to Counter High Unemployment "In the past 40 years, Congress has never failed to extend long-term unemployment benefits while the jobless rate has been above 7.2 percent," writes Tim Fernholz at The American Prospect. "The current rate is nearly 10 percent and isn’t projected to decline for years. Last year, these benefits kept some 3.3 million Americans out of poverty, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; should they lapse, the result will be simple: More Americans will be rendered indigent."