Yesterday, the House of Representatives failed to pass a (far too short) three-month extension of unemployment benefits. If Congress does not act to extend benefits by the end of the month, 2.5 million Americans will lose their benefits, right in the midst of the holiday season.
At the same time, Congress is intensely debating whether or not to extend the Bush tax cuts for the richest two percent of Americans, at a cost of $830 billion over the next decade. Earlier this week, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) called for a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the rich, while deriding extending unemployment benefits as “some new massive spending.”
And in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, the incoming chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, Rep. John Kline (R-MN), pronounced that extending benefits is not a priority for the incoming Republican Congress because “we can’t fund everything.” “We just don’t have the money,” Kline said:
KLINE: That’ll be a tougher lift in the 112th Congress. We’ve had unemployment benefits be extended for almost two years in some states, a little bit less in Minnesota. When you’re running a one and a half trillion dollar deficit per year, that’ll be part of the discussion as to whether that’s a priority for how we’re going to spend money. I would just reiterate what I said earlier, that the obligation for the Congress is to look at the entire budget and recognize that we’re borrowing over forty cents of every dollar that we spend, and say what are the priorities going to be. We can’t fund everything.
Q: But what do you tell those folks hanging on by a thread who really need those benefits?
KLINE: Well, they, heh, the best thing to do for them is to get the economy back on track and get businesses hiring so that they have a job that they can go to. We simply don’t have the money to keep extending unemployment benefits indefinitely. We just don’t have the money.
Kline also supports extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich. So in his world, $830 billion to finance tax cuts for the wealthy is fine, but $12.5 billion to extend unemployment benefits for three months is too expensive.
Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) is also a part of this crowd, supporting a full extension of the Bush tax cuts, but saying today, “we’re facing a fiscal crisis. If we’re going to choose to extend unemployment, we’ve got to find a way to pay for it.” Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) added, “we can both provide this help and pay for it by cutting less effective stimulus spending. That’s what we should be debating today.”
In the last forty years, the U.S. has never allowed extended benefits to expire with the unemployment rate above 7.2 percent, far below today’s rate of 9.6 percent. Plus, there are currently five unemployed persons for every job opening in the country. In fact, there are so few job openings, that even if every open position in the country were filled, four out of five unemployed workers would still be out of work. But for Kline and the other House Republicans, extending tax cuts for the rich is much higher on the priority list then ensuring that these households have an adequate safety net.
Cross-posted on The Wonk Room.