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Republicans Once Again Block Extending Unemployment Benefits

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As part of Republican obstruction-at-any-cost election year strategy, Senate Republicans last week once again blocked an extension of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for long-term jobless workers. The UI extension is part of the jobs bill that could help put the unemployed back to work.

Some Republicans even said it’s time for ”tough love” to motivate the long-term jobless.

Granted, they are far removed from the day-to-day economic reality of America’s workers. So here’s a reminder: Today, in the United States, there are five unemployed workers for every job opening, an unemployment rate near 10 percent, at least 15 million people out of work and 6.8 million people out of work for 27 weeks or more. Getting a job is not like going down to the corner for a quart of milk.

Heck, when you still get your tax-payer funded, congressional paycheck every week ($3,346.15) for not doing very much work, it can certainly alter your view of the economy—even to the point where some Republican politicos actually claim the not quite $300-a-week average unemployment check is a “disincentive” for the unemployed to get out of the door and look for work.

Maybe senators think that when the men and women who have been out of work since at least before Thanksgiving (and millions for more than one year) get that bountiful UI check, they sit around the kitchen table and make big plans to spend that dough.

Hey, hon got my check. This sure beats working. What do you say we go to Palm Springs this weekend? We can fly the kids to your mom’s and board the dogs at that new spa kennel.

No, senator, the response to a couple hundred bucks a week goes more like this:

Maybe we should think about gassing up the car so we can go down to the food bank and set something aside for your blood pressure medicine. Oh, and there’s that foreclosure notice we need to deal with.

Each time Senate Democratic leaders have brought up a UI extension this year, Republicans have delayed and blocked the bill. With the extended UI program set to expire at the end of May, the House passed its jobs bill with a UI extension just before Memorial Day but the Senate left town for vacation and didn’t act on the bill. As a result, some 1 million workers who have been out of work for more than a year—remember, one job opening for every five unemployed workers—have no UI.

Along with the incredibly insensitive and out-of-touch “tough love theory,” some lawmakers are hiding behind deficit hysteria, even though three-quarters of voters say extending unemployment insurance is more important than reducing the deficit.

Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize-winning economist and op-ed columnist for The New York Times, blows out of the water the deficit doomsday panic that has lawmakers screaming, “We can’t spend any money now or the deficit will eat us alive.” Here’s his simple axiom:

Spend now, while the economy remains depressed; save later, once it has recovered. How hard is that to understand?

Right now, we have a severely depressed economy—and that depressed economy is inflicting long-run damage. Every year that goes by with extremely high unemployment increases the chance that many of the long-term unemployed will never come back to the workforce and become a permanent underclass.

Penny-pinching at a time like this isn’t just cruel; it endangers the nation’s future. And it doesn’t even do much to reduce our future debt burden, because stinting on spending now threatens the economic recovery, and with it the hope for rising revenues.

Along with the UI extension, the jobs bill also includes money to help cash-strapped states to create and save jobs. Today, AFSCME and Americans United for Change launched an ad campaign aimed at Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, whose votes could break the 60-vote threshold the bill needs before final passage. Says AFSCME President Gerald McEntee:

It’s very simple—more jobs now mean less debt later. If Sens. Snowe and Collins are truly concerned about the deficit, then they need to vote for this jobs bill—especially as unemployment hovers near 10 percent, and 900,000 more workers face the threat of layoffs.

During his weekly address Saturday, President Obama said Republican filibuster tactics “won’t even allow this legislation to come up for a vote.”

And if this obstruction continues, unemployed Americans will see their benefits stop. Teachers and firefighters will lose their jobs.


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