My mother, who recently turned 80 and enjoys Hannity, Limbaugh and the rest of the conservative pundits on daytime radio, believes that the federal unemployment extension has passed in Congress and that the checks will be in the mail shortly.
Um, Mom? I’m not holding my breath.
I hear it’s getting nasty, and not just on Capitol Hill either. Inflammatory name-calling abounds. Apparently, either you’re a “conservatard” or a “libtard.” Wowzers, this unemployment thing sure has become a hot-button issue.
This should come as no surprise. More than a million unemployed Americans lost their checks when the enabling legislation for federal benefit extensions expired three days after Christmas. As most of them are still out of work, that’s January, February and March without any income.
This is part of the problem with the Senate bill to extend benefits, according to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). If both houses of Congress were to pass the bill, unemployment checks would need to be provided retroactively to those who were cut off in December. This would leave state governments with an administrative nightmare, according to Boehner, who believes that the states’ often antiquated data processing systems are incapable of making retroactive payments without creating openings for massive fraud. Interestingly, some of the states with the highest rates of unemployment, including New York and Boehner’s home state of Ohio, roundly deny this line of reasoning. Show us the money, they say, and we’ll take care of getting it distributed. Then again, there are those states (including some of the poorest ones, such as Mississippi) that are happy to go along with Boehner’s ruse because they simply do not want to have to deal with passing out the money.
But Boehner, who has characterized the Senate bill as unworkable, has voiced a second objection: It fails to include any provisions to create jobs in the private sector. In other words, why bother providing handouts when there are no jobs to be had and the recipients of government largesse are just going to run through their checks and need more? (raising my hand) Ooo, ooo, teacher, I know! How about because we need to feed our families and keep a roof over their heads?
It would be easy to characterize Boehner’s smokescreen as a means of mollifying the Tea Party conservatives in his caucus and hence keeping his speakership. But it goes beyond that. Sure, Republicans gripe about how we’ve become “a nation of takers” and how government “handouts” merely perpetuate the cycle of dependence and a mindset of entitlement. However, the bottom line seems to be that representatives of both parties continue to demonstrate a lack of sufficient intestinal fortitude to engage in the type of fracas over the issue that the Senate has dragged itself through in the past three months. The facts that children are going to be without food and that families will be rendered homeless have been reduced to meaningless details, apparently.
Now that five Republican senators have agreed to vote in favor of the unemployment extension bill (deciding, as one editorial put it, that “the time for callousness has run out”), it appears poised to pass in that august body on Monday morning. Of course, anything is possible. If even one of those five craps out at the last minute, the measure won’t have enough votes to survive a filibuster.
Not that it really matters. The Senate gets a feather in its cap, sure. Senate Democrats can rejoice in a hard-fought win and Republicans can crow about how, against their better judgment, they allowed their values to be compromised in order to bail out those of their fellow Americans who are in the direst of straits. Senators can play the role of the good guys and point their collective fingers at the bad boys and girls of the House of Representatives, who (at least if Boehner has his way) are likely to prevent the unemployment extension bill from ever coming to a vote.
Meanwhile, those of us who have been out of work for more than six months get nothing.
Delaney, Arthur, “House GOP Says It’s Too Late to Pass an Unemployment Extension,” huffingtonpost.com (March 27, 2014).
Everett, Burgess, “Senate Advances Jobless Aid,” politico.com (March 27, 2014).
Firestone, David, “Despite a Senate Deal, the Jobless Still Wait for Aid,” The New York Times (Taking Note, March 14, 2014).
Fram, Alan, “Boehner Questions Senate Unemployment Deal,” Boston Globe (Associated Press, March 14, 2014).