The cold-hearted spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge is alive and well in the U.S. Senate, which is essentially telling the jobless to buzz off.Amidst the latest outbreak of farcical behavior – triggered yesterday by the Republicans (naturally), who are threatening to block everything unless Democrats agree to extend tax cuts for the rich (naturally) – let it be recorded that the jobless have become collateral damage. Thanks to the predictable senatorial inertia, federal unemployment benefits for as many as two million Americans (including 83,000 Pennsylvanians) expired yesterday. For some, the money will run out by Dec. 11; for most, the money will run out by Christmas. Happy holidays from your elected leaders.We’re talking here about people who have been out of work for nearly two years, seeking shelter from the economic storm. These are people who long ago exhausted their state jobless benefits (typically 26 weeks), and availed themselves of federal benefits that bestowed protection for another 73 weeks. They have used this modest money (typically, $300 a week) to put food on the table and a roof over their heads, but the expiration clock chimed at midnight yesterday. Everyone in the Senate was aware of the looming Dec. 1 deadline, but, given the usual Senate math, no extension of benefits could be approved without some Republican consent. And, shock of the ages, it turns out that the Republicans have other priorities. Here’s how their minds work: It’s wrong to extend jobless benefits to those people, because doing so would deepen the budget deficit…but it’s right to extend Bush tax cuts to the rich, despite the fact that doing so would deepen the budget deficit.Therefore, according to Republican thinking: The long-term jobless should get nothing, unless the Senate pays for the benefits by trimming some other federal program…but the rich should continue to get their Bush tax cuts no matter what, regardless of whether they are paid for.This is class warfare. The rich get more money that they don’t need, while the people at the low end get the shaft.On Tuesday night, during a plea for the jobless, Democrat Jack Reed said on the Senate floor, “Now it is time to govern…Acting now is the right thing to do, the responsible thing to do.” Was he kidding, or what? The GOP’s definition of responsibility is to stand tall for the rich – which, in the years from 2002 to 2007, reaped disproportionate gains from the Bush tax cuts, while the median wage dropped.
But to truly appreciate the GOP’s standard take on the long-term jobless issue, let’s revisit some of the fact-free remarks uttered the other day by Republican congressman John Shadegg of Arizona. He’s a House guy, but it’s the basic party line. He’s also retiring, but that’s no consolation, because the incoming tea-party crowd will be even worse.During an appearance on MSNBC, host Mike Barnicle asked him: “What about the fact that unemployment benefits pumped into the economy are an immediate benefit to the economy?”To which Shadegg caustically replied: “No, they’re not! Unemployed people hire people? Really?”It’s always fascinating to hear Republicans voice convictions that have no basis in fact. But for those of us who retain a respect for empirical evidence, certain facts seem inescapable. For instance, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded, in a report last summer, that benefit extensions “lead to greater spending by recipients, and thereby greater demand for goods and services in the economy as a whole. Both of those effects tend to boost employment and lower the unemployment rate.”Or how about this conclusion, which surfaced in a recent report by an economic firm, Moody’s Analytics: “Unemployment benefits are among the most potent forms of economic stimulus available. Additional unemployment insurance produces very high economic activity per dollar spent.” The report, in a statistical table, shows that a federal dollar given to a jobless person typically generates $1.61 in economic activity.The Moody’s report was co-authored by an economist named Mark Zandi. The same Mark Zandi who served in 2008 as economic advisor to Republican candidate John McCain. And if an ex-McCain adviser isn’t credible enough for Republicans, perhaps a Goldman Sachs economic analyst might be. Alec Phillips says that if these benefits are allowed to expire, economic growth slow by half a percentage point.Anyway, back to that Shadegg interview. When Barnicle pointed out that jobless people help the economy by spending their benefits, Shadegg replied: “Ah! Ah! So your answer is, it’s the spending of money that drives the economy, and I don’t think that’s right.”It is right. Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of economic activity. But let’s continue.Shadegg then said: “The truth is, the unemployed will spend as little of that money as they possibly can.”The truth is precisely the opposite. From Mark Zandi’s report: “Most unemployed workers spend their benefits immediately,” because they have no choice, “and without such extra help, laid-off workers and their families have little choice but to slash their spending.”But the facts don’t matter, not in this political climate. Senate Republicans as always will cling to the phony arguments they accept on faith, and, eventually, I would not be surprised if they get around to rescuing these jobless people (albeit, after a few weeks of benefit loss), in exchange for a Democratic agreement to rescue the rich. Which, by itself, would demonstrate yet again that the Democrats are helpless even when they have the facts on their side.In an interview yesterday, lame-duck Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio marveled at the Republican party line: “These people are saying ‘we are going to insist on tax cuts for the richest people in the country and we don’t care if they are paid for, and we don’t think it is a problem if it contributes to the deficit, but we are not going to vote to extend unemployment benefits to working people if they aren’t paid for, because they contribute to the deficit.'”Then, referring to his fellow Democrats, he said: “I mean, if we can’t win that argument, we might as well just fold up.” True that.