At 12 a.m. this morning, extended unemployment benefits officially expired, meaning that 2.5 million Americans will see their benefits disappear by the end of the month. This will not only hurt the individual families — while unemployment is still above nine percent and there are five job seekers for every job opening — but will also harm the wider economy. Economists estimate that allowing benefits to expire could cause economic growth to “fall by one half to nearly 1 percentage point,” as well as throw hundreds of thousands of people into poverty.
Cutting off benefits will also negatively affect small businesses, because, as MarketPlace noted, “when unemployment checks stop, it’s felt right away by businesses like gas stations, apartment operators, and grocery stores.” But Republicans in Congress have been screaming that the country can’t afford to extend benefits unless they are offset with spending cuts elsewhere.
Of course, these same Republicans have no problem extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy without corresponding spending cuts. And today, on MSNBC, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) — who has been serving as House Republican Conference chairman and is being touted as a possible 2012 Presidential nominee — twice refused to endorse extending unemployment benefits if it meant that taxes went up on only millionaires:
HALPERIN: If your leaders came to you and said ‘we have a deal with the White House. We’re going to extend unemployment benefits but the tax cuts for people making over a million dollars a year will not be extended, but that helps to pay for it,’ would you take that deal? Would you vote for that package?
PENCE: Look, I think the worst thing you could do for people that are struggling in this economy and looking for a job is raise taxes on any American. We don’t want to help with one hand and take away with the other.
HALPERIN: So would rather extend the tax cuts for every American, including those making over a million, or have the unemployment benefits extended, if that’s the choice?
PENCE: This isn’t a corner, but I feel the paint. I’m good. Nice move. I played chess with my son the other day and I lost, so I’m not good at this chess thing. Let me tell you, I think the minimum we have to do for Americans right now that are struggling in unemployment in this economy is make sure no American sees a tax increase.
But if the Bush tax cuts for millionaires were so great for job creation, how does Pence explain that Bush presided over the weakest jobs and income growth in the post-war period?
For comparisons sake, the average millionaire will receive $103,809 in tax breaks next year if the Bush tax cuts are extended. Unemployment benefits, meanwhile, average about $290 per week. As Steve Benen might say, Pence’s stance “crystallizes contemporary conservatism”: tax breaks for millionaires are sacrosanct, while helping those struggling in the wake of the Great Recession is not.