Today should be the day, at last, when the U.S. Senate comes to its senses and extends unemployment benefits to the millions of Americans who continue the long-term struggle to find regular employment.
And, as Star-Advertiser writer Alan Yonan Jr. reported this week, those holding their breaths for that vote include about 6,000 Hawaii residents who have been out of work so long that their unemployment benefits ran out last month.
This is a real crisis for many families. The loss of income, a maximum of $559 a week, has a destabilizing effect on our society. The rent or the mortgage can’t be paid, leading to the loss of a home. On a smaller scale, cutting back on essential purchases such as groceries and gas causes a ripple effect through the fragile economies of all the states, Hawaii included.
Even so, Senate deficit hawks like Blue Dog Democrat Ben Nelson and every Republican except Maine’s Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have decided to draw a fiscal line in the sand on this of all issues.
The unwavering GOP narrative has been that they would happily extend the benefits if the Democrats would only carve out the cost from some other program—the unspent stimulus funds being the lowest-hanging fruit they’d like to pluck.
Of course, diverting the stimulus funds, principally being used now on various infrastructure projects, would cost much-needed jobs. It’s a bad bargain.
And while these deficit hawks complain that the proposal, which extends benefits through the end of November, would add $40 billion to the deficit, this amount represents only 0.002 percent to the annual shortfall.
Yes, a long-term solution needs to be found to reduce the deficit. But a serious discussion of fiscal austerity would include cuts to military spending and entitlement programs, rather than something that routinely is treated as emergency spending.
As much as they like to point to a growing popular concern about the national debt, GOP leaders are showing themselves to be tone-deaf. Two recent polls, by CBS News and ABC News/Washington Post, show a clear majority of the public favoring the extension.
It’s too bad more Republicans won’t support the extension. Fortunately, the appointment of a temporary replacement for the late Sen. Robert Byrd means there are now enough votes to foil a filibuster attempt. That should come as a great relief to Hawaii’s unemployed: With every month this vote is delayed, 2,150 more here lose their benefits.
America’s jobless are, in fact, facing a dire emergency. Is this the hill Republicans want to die upon?
Let’s hope not, especially considering how many of the unemployed would number among the casualties.