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Unemployment benefits fight misses forest for the trees

Written By : Dustin Siggins
February 8, 2014

Yesterday, the Senate once again failed to pass an extension of unemployment benefits, with barely enough Republicans holding the line against more spending. Democrats immediately hopped on the bandwagon to claim Republicans hate the poor. From Huffington Post, two examples of the overheated rhetoric:


First, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said that “The real reason the [Republican] political leaders in the Senate want to stop unemployment benefits is they believe unemployed people are lazy.” Just as egregiously, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey said that “because of the inaction of one person today there’s a family, thousands of families who are going to miss mortgage payments and send their lives into economic chaos.”

In addition to being over-the-top in rhetoric, the arguments by Democrats miss the proverbial forest for the trees.

First, the unemployment benefits under question were supposed to be a temporary program implemented in 2008. However, it seems that Democrats are willing to make yet another temporary program resemble a more permanent – and expensive – slot in the federal budget.

Second, unemployment benefits are good political weapons for Democrats, but tax reform and spending cuts would be better for the economy and the American people. Instead of spending more and slowing the economy further, the American people would see a faster-growing economy and more money in their hands.

Third, Huffington Post reports that “Democrats tried to sweeten the deal by banning millionaires from receiving benefits.” Oh, gosh – that’s such a good deal for the taxpayers: going further into debt to give people who make $999,999 unemployment benefits.

I guess we’re supposed to be impressed by the Democrat’s graciousness in (finally, belatedly) not giving your tax dollars to millionaires. Sarcastic kudos to them.

Republicans, of course, haven’t been much better. For example, in the House last year, conservatives rightly knocked down the farm bill for its absurd spending on food stamps – yet in the very next vote, 50 fewer Republicans voted against farm subsidies for wealthy farmers. And while they should oppose unemployment extensions as the spending boondoggle they are, where are the GOP backers of Senator Coburn’s efforts to eliminate duplication in the budget?

Over six years after the last recession started, and over 4.5 years since it officially ended, it’s long past time for Congress to stop trying to patch the weak economy with more ineffective, debt-filled spending, and move on to real, long-term policy changes that would grow the economy, leave more money in the hands of the American people, and leave fewer Americans at the mercy of political gamesmanship in Washington.

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