Struggle over unemployment benefits

Posted on Wednesday, January 8, 2014 at 10:19 am

It’s too bad that jobless people have become the pawns in a political chess game.

The current struggle in Washington is over the terms for extending federal unemployment insurance benefits, which expired Dec. 28 for many long-term jobless after Congress decided not to include them as part of a bipartisan budget agreement.

Now the Senate has passed a proposal to restore benefits for eligible workers for another three months.

Republicans want to offset the cost, roughly $6.5 billion, with spending cuts elsewhere. That sounds reasonable. But Democrats point out that Congress has called for no such offsets when it extended jobless benefits time after time during periods of high unemployment.

We’re in such a period. The current national unemployment rate stands at 7 percent, high enough for the National Economic Council director to call it “an urgent situation.”

“Fourteen of the last seventeen times in the last twenty years that it’s been extended, there’s been no strings attached,” he was quoted as saying by USA Today.

President George W. Bush extended emergency benefits five times with no spending offsets, and all five times the jobless rate was lower than it is today, he said.

But that was before party politics became more important to Washington than the national good. Or are opponents trying to avoid business as usual in the Beltway?

Tennessee’s Bob Corker, by the way, is one of four Republican senators from states with high unemployment who has so far refused to back the bipartisan bill to extend benefits. Even after passing the Senate, USA Today reported, it faces a tougher challenge in the Republican-controlled House.

One big reason for opposing the bill is, for many in Congress, apparently, that President Barack Obama is for it.

-The Paris (Tenn.) Post-Intelligencer

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