A few weeks ago, for the second time in two months, Senate Republicans objected to an extension of unemployment benefits. While the last dispute was resolved in time to keep benefits from expiring, as of Monday, hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers are seeing their benefits come to an end.
Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) led the GOP obstruction last time (telling the Democrats “tough sh*t” when they asked for unanimous consent to move the extension forward), but this time Sen. Tom “Dr. No” Coburn (R-OK) has stepped up to the plate. And he evidently has no remorse about his actions, as he feels they affect a “relatively small amount of people”:
The easiest thing in the world is to pass this bill unpaid for, but consider the millions of Americans whose financial futures would be damaged, versus the relatively small amount of people who will be affected by this delay. Now you tell me which vote takes the most courage.
First, Coburn is wrong on the economics. Providing unemployment benefits is one of the most effective steps that a government can take in terms of economic stimulus, and unless the economy starts moving again, long-term deficits (“financial futures”) will never be brought under control. As the National Employment Law Project’s Judy Conti explained, “every economist from every side of the political spectrum will tell you that unemployment benefits are most stimulative when they are not offset. In the history of the unemployment program, we have never offset these programs.”
And then there’s the human angle. Because of Coburn and the GOP’s obstruction, more than 200,000 people per week will lose their benefits. About one million are slated to lose their benefits this month. And this is taking place while 44 percent of unemployed Americans (about 6.5 million people) have been unemployed for six months or more. Plus, the same package that Coburn blocked included a renewal of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), while the Northeast United States has been hard-hit by flooding.
If you thought this whole sordid episode would prompt some soul-searching among the GOP, you’d be mistaken. They are, instead, circling the wagons around Coburn and trying to blame House Democrats (who objected to their proposed offset) for preventing the extension. In fact, Sen. Jon Kyl’s (R-AZ) takeaway is that the GOP should have lent more support to Bunning when he blocked the extension. “We didn’t give [Bunning] as much help as we probably should have,” Kyl said. “It took an act of courage like Sen. Bunning’s to perhaps jolt people into the awareness of how bad it had really gotten.”
Cross-posted at The Wonk Room.