Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) said yesterday that he is willing to hold an extension of unemployment benefits hostage in the Senate unless he is given the opportunity to cut taxes for the very wealthiest estates in the country. And other members of the GOP caucus are not making things any easier.
First, Reid attempted to pass the extension by unanimous consent late last night, only to see the attempt thwarted by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY), who blocked the measure because of “a dispute over how it should be funded.” Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), meanwhile, said that he would support a short-term extension of benefits, but doesn’t want to accommodate Reid’s request for a full-year extension:
If we intend to have some immediate impact on the economy through what we’re doing, why would we be extending unemployment insurance for a year?
This is problematic on a couple of levels. First, providing unemployment benefits is one of the best actions that the government can take in terms of stimulating the economy, because the money is almost certain to be spent quickly. Every dollar spent on unemployment benefits generates more than $1.60 in economic activity, which is far more stimulus than is generated by any sort of tax cut. So the benefits extension, by itself, has an “immediate impact on the economy.”
Second, even if job creation were already booming, it would take some time for the number of jobs lost during the recession to be regained. In the meantime, 1.1 million workers are scheduled to have their unemployment benefits expire in the next month, and 2.7 million are on track to lose them by April. By June, the number is 5 million. Even if the economy starts adding jobs, all of these people are not going to find work right away.
There are currently six unemployed workers for every job opening. And to provide a sense for how long it will take to claw back to full employment, even without compensation for population increases, we’d need to generate 350,000 jobs a month for two full years just to make up the jobs lost in the recession.
So it’s a very steep hill to climb, and in the meantime, people’s benefits are going to run out and they’ll be left with nothing. In fact, some jurisdictions are already sending out letters informing people that their benefits are going to expire. And let’s not forget, the last time an extension was considered, the GOP obstructed it for weeks with procedural hurdles and nonsense amendments about ACORN, and then the bill passed on a 98-0 vote. Perhaps this time they can dispense with the gamesmanship and do what needs to be done?