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Out In The Cold?

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"Out In The Cold?"

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Extend Emergency Unemployment Insurance

Before leaving for the holidays in December, Congress turned its back on the long-term unemployed by refusing to extend emergency unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for over a million Americans. Unemployment compensation is an insurance program people pay into for their entire working lives and cutting people off in their time of need with little notice is not only cruel, but also unfair.

The Senate took the first, temporary step to right that wrong today, when the 60 Senators necessary voted to start debating a three-month restoration of UI benefits. (6 of the 60 in support of taking up the bill were Republicans, while 37 senators, all Republicans, voted against even allowing the Senate to discuss this vital measure.)

Unfortunately, Speaker John Boehner and even some of the Senate Republicans who voted to start debating the bill are insisting that any plan to extend UI benefits be offset with spending cuts. Historically, including multiple times under President George W. Bush, these emergency benefits have been considered emergency spending and not offset with spending cuts. As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said today, it’s a “new religion” for Republicans to insist on spending cuts to pay for emergency benefits.

Extending unemployment benefits, to be clear, didn’t used to be controversial to Republicans. In fact, Republicans supported the program because a person must continue looking for work in order to receive emergency compensation. Now, of course, it is a different story. They offer a rationale for their position that simply doesn’t make sense.

All of this from the same party that doesn’t even have a credible antipoverty program fully 50 years after we launched the War on Poverty.

To be clear, there should be no need to pay for an extension of UI, but instead of more painful austerity spending cuts, we’ve identified just a few of the many wasteful and unproductive corporate tax giveaways that could easily be abolished to achieve the necessary savings:

Total savings: $6.016 billion over 10 years, almost exactly the cost of extending unemployed Americans a lifeline for the next three months.

While today’s Senate action was a positive sign, the bill still faces a very difficult path ahead in the Senate, to say nothing of the House. Here are a few numbers to know on the impact of failing to extend UI benefits:

BOTTOM LINE: It is unconscionable that Republicans chose to leave 1.3 million Americans struggling to find work out in the cold before leaving for the holidays. Today’s Senate vote was a step in the right direction, and we can’t afford to wait any longer—if Republicans really insist on offsetting the cost, there are plenty of outrageous tax loopholes that could be used instead of more damaging cuts other important programs. Now is not the time to deal another blow to our economy and struggling families.