With a mere seven work days left on its 2013 calendar, while facing urgent issues such as extending unemployment compensation for millions of out-of-work Americans, reforming the country’s immigration system and agreeing on a federal budget, the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing this morning on whether space aliens exist.
While the two-hour session entitled “Astrobiology: Search for Biosignatures in our Solar System and Beyond,” in fairness, tackles such worthwhile issues as “the future of life on Earth and beyond” in an era of devastating NASA budget cuts, congressional reps might want to phone home and find out what exactly their constituents would like them to do in the limited time they have left this year.
For example, the House doesn’t return to work until January 7, 2014. But without a budget deal before then, the country faces the threat of another devastating government shutdown, because under the current agreement, reached after October's shutdown, federal money runs out on January 15.
Even more urgent, benefits for the “long term” unemployed — that is, those still looking for work after more than six months since getting laid off — simply terminate on December 29 under current law.
If congress doesn’t get its act together to extend those benefits, almost 2 million people will have a very unhappy New Year, with approximately 2 million more facing a desperate situation within a few months after that.
The economy itself will take a hit, too, because unemployment benefits are one of the most effective ways to get the economy moving. A study by the financial firm Moody's showed every dollar spent on unemployment benefits brought back $1.61 in economic activity.
Though unemployment has dropped from its crushing levels of around 10 percent in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis, congress has done little if anything to fix the continuing calamity. The unemployment rate has stagnated in the 7.3 percent range since the summer.
Traditionally, a 5 percent unemployment rate is considered “full employment.” In 2007, before the bubble burst, the rate sank to a brief low of 4.4 percent.
The House has given itself a relaxed work schedule this year, with just 126 work days in 2013 — and a mere 113 on the schedule for next year.
Passing fewer than 60 bills so far this year, the current congress will go down as the most useless in history.
SOURCES: The Guardian (2), Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal, Bureau Of Labor Statistics, Washington Post, Washington Times, NPR