Before leaving Washington to celebrate the Fourth of July, U.S. Sens. Dan Akaka and Dan Inouye voted to extend unemployment benefits for one million desperate Americans. A big mahalo to them both.
In contrast, Senate Republicans showed their patriotism by blocking the bill. Stingy and uncaring? Sure, but what’s really outrageous is that these are the same politicians who created the unemployment in the first place.
Remember, it was Republican anti-regulatory policies which allowed Wall Street to spin out of control and crash, causing the Great Bush Recession and its ongoing suffering. In the November elections, Republicans expect that most voters will have forgotten all that and will blame current unemployment on the current president. Will we be that simple-minded?
Meanwhile, America staggers along with 8 million jobs lost—nearly 40,000 here in Hawaii. Think about what this is doing to the social fabric of our country: the feelings of helplessness, low self-worth, and anger among these millions who can’t find jobs—and the abrupt rise in spousal and child abuse nationwide.
Republicans appear unmoved by this tragedy. With their Wall Street and oil company benefactors again enjoying huge profits and bonuses, campaign contributions are rolling in and all is well. The unemployed? Here’s what Jon Kyl, No. 2 Senate Republican, has to say about the unemployed: "Continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work."
Personally, I don’t believe all Republicans are that heartless. But since November 2008, they’ve been united in seeking "Obama’s Waterloo," by blocking everything he’s tried to accomplish, regardless of consequences.
Blocking unemployment benefits is a particularly high priority. Unemployment checks are a very effective stimulus, because they tend to be spent immediately, going right into the economy. And the last thing Republicans want to see in November 2010 is a recovering economy, which would help Democrats.
Of course, they will never admit that. Instead, they claim a righteous concern for mounting federal deficits. This sudden conversion to fiscal rectitude is transparently deceitful, coming from the party which ran up nearly one trillion in debt for the Iraq war plus $700 billion from reduced taxes for the wealthy since 2001. Not to mention the financial meltdown of 2008 and the requirement for bailouts and stimulus.
The 2009 $789 billion stimulus bill was never enough. Reduced by many billions in exchange for three Republican votes, most of it went for tax relief and help to the states in keeping teachers and police on the job. No big, visible infrastructure projects were possible, enabling the Republicans to claim the stimulus hasn’t worked.
We need more stimulus if America is to avoid our own version of Japan’s "lost decade." In the words of Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, "Spend now, while the economy remains depressed; save later, once it has recovered. How hard is that to understand?"