This week, after Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) was unable to muster any Republican support for it in the Senate, Rep. Dave Obey (D-WI) said that he would attach a $23 billion bill aimed at preventing mass teacher layoffs to the House version of the fiscal year 2010 war supplemental. The Senate is currently debating the supplemental, and the House plans to move on it next.
Ever since this proposal for teacher funding started making the rounds, Republicans have been mischaracterizing it as a “bailout,” and the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), said that he would push his party to vote against the war supplemental if it included the money for teachers.
Today, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) appeared on Fox News to talk about the effort. (Fox’s Bill Hemmer was a tad confused, and said that the teacher money would be attached to the extenders bill currently before the House, which continues various tax breaks and important social safety net programs, like unemployment insurance.) When asked if he would support the money for teachers, Cantor dismissed the funding because he’s focused on “priorities.” He then poo-pooed the idea of extending unemployment benefits as “a far cry from the original intent” of the program:
Q: Some are pushing in this bill for $23 billion to make sure that teachers are not laid off in certain parts of the country. Education’s important too, as you well know. You wonder if you go ahead and pay for it or force these schools districts to find another place to get the money or cut back. How’s that going over?
CANTOR: Again, it’s assessing priorities. Some of the spending bill that they’re talking about right now is extending unemployment insurance, is extending COBRA insurance. All these things, in tough times, certainly are worthwhile programs. But let’s pay for ‘em…Part of this bill now is extending unemployment insurance to 99 weeks. That’s a far cry from the original intent, just a few years ago, of 26 weeks of unemployment insurance.
Up to 300,000 teachers across the country are facing layoffs, and Cantor’s own state of Virginia is looking at 2,000 layoffs this year. In addition to layoffs, school districts are cutting summer school, moving to four-day school weeks and eliminating caps on class size, all in order to handle draconian budget cuts that have either already been made or are certainly coming if the federal government doesn’t act.
As far as the extension of unemployment benefits, 1.2 million Americans who are currently eligible for extended benefits will have the rug pulled out from under them in June without an extension. Plus, according to the Center for American Progress’ Christian Weller, the average length of unemployment is currently 31.2 weeks, “and 44.1 percent of the unemployed were out of a job for 27 weeks or more.” “This is a new record for long-term unemployment,” he added.
Given that, it makes sense to ensure that all eligible workers receive their benefits. (The extension does not create a new tier of benefits for workers who have exhausted theirs.) But instead, Cantor would rather wax rhetorically about priorities and play with his gimmicky YouCut toy.