Unless Congress acts by tomorrow, 2.5 million Americans will lose their extended unemployment benefits, even though unemployment is still above nine percent and there are currently five unemployed workers for every job opening. In the last forty years, the U.S. has never allowed jobless benefits to expire with unemployment so high.
At the same time, Congress is also faced with the December 31st expiration of the Bush tax cuts. Today, in two separate interviews, Sen.-elect Mark Kirk (R-IL) tried to bolster his fiscal conservative credentials by saying that extending unemployment insurance without finding spending cuts to offset the extension would be “misguided” because of its effect on the deficit. However, Kirk also called for extending all of the Bush tax cuts, “no matter what” the effect on the nation’s budget:
KIRK: We should extend the Bush tax cuts and make sure we don’t have a double-dip recession. And I have the honor to be the first of ninety-five new Republicans, fiscal conservatives, to help right our ship of state. […]
Q: The first thing you’re talking about is deficit reduction and spending. Does that mean that right now, as of today, you’d be against extending the unemployment insurance?
KIRK: That’s right. You could extend it if you found a way to pay for it. And I voted for that in the past. But these proposals to extend unemployment insurance by just adding it to the deficit are misguided.
Kirk actually claimed that extending benefits — which costs $60 billion for one year, or $12.5 billion for a three-month extension — would lead to a Irish-style debt crisis, while glossing over the $4 trillion cost of extending the Bush tax cuts for a decade ($830 billion of which goes to only the richest two percent of Americans). Even MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough saw through Kirk’s double-talk, asking, “if [the tax cuts] are not paid for though, do we not risk going the way, as you said, of Greece and Ireland?”
As the New York Times editorial board wrote, “opponents would have you believe that the nation cannot afford to keep paying unemployment benefits: a yearlong extension would cost about $60 billion. The truth is, we cannot afford not to…Without jobs, there is inadequate spending, and that means ever fewer jobs. A wide range of private and government studies show that unemployment benefits combat that vicious cycle by ensuring that families can buy the basics.”
Of course, Kirk is no stranger to fraudulent fiscal conservative rhetoric. During the campaign, he paired his call for massive new tax cuts with a budget-cutting plan that included only one actual spending cut, reducing the budget by less than one percent.