The GOP’s lockstep vote in June against extending unemployment benefits not only was mindless but heartless. It was done without serious thought or principle, and clearly without social compassion — part of a strategy of obstructionism to deny President Obama and the Democrats any accomplishments or victories before the upcoming mid-term elections.
And the 2.5 million unemployed who were denied the average payment of $309 per week, needed to pay the rent and put food on the table for their families, were the innocent victims. This week’s passage of legislation extending benefits beyond 26 weeks, thanks to the defection of the two moderate Republican senators from Maine and the quick replacement of the late Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, shouldn’t make people forget what the GOP did — or, more precisely, wouldn’t do.
The army of unemployed that the Republicans care so little about were actually twice victimized. Most are out of work through no fault of their own, casualties of the banking debacle brought about by a combination of corporate greed and lax financial regulation that Republicans encouraged and celebrated (and Democrats tolerated as long as the economy was humming and the stock market was rising).
GOP leaders say they recognize the need to extend unemployment benefits but are concerned about the fast-growing national debt. Before supporting the legislation, they want $34 billion in offsetting budget cuts.
But they have made no similar proposal when it comes to the tax cuts for the wealthy that they recommend — which would cost about 20 times as much as the extended unemployment benefits. Nor did they when President Bush gave $180 billion to AIG, or the Federal Reserve bought up $1.2 trillion in toxic debt obligations in a handout to the bankers who devised and sold them, or for the rest of the financial bailout that has cost trillions in taxpayer debt.
The GOP’s scorched-earth policy might well succeed in the November elections because when people are struggling economically, they don’t make tend to make fine distinctions; they’ll just blame the governing party, and right now that is the Democrats. But the Democrats have every right to remind the unemployed, and all who have compassion for them, what the Republicans were prepared to do for them: nothing.