Knowing the kind of shape the country is in, knowing how much worse it will get, actually makes it physically painful for me to listen to the political kabuki of ideologues like Bobby Jindal and his ilk. Do Republicans ever put the country before their party? The New York Times published this editorial today:
Imagine yourself jobless and struggling to feed your family while the governor of your state threatens to reject tens of millions of dollars in federal aid earmarked for the unemployed. That is precisely what is happening in poverty-ridden states like Louisiana and Mississippi where Republican governors are threatening to turn away federal aid rather than expand access to unemployment insurance programs in ways that many other states did a long time ago.
What makes these bad decisions worse is that they are little more than political posturing by rising Republican stars, like Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina. This behavior reinforces the disturbing conclusion that the Republican Party seems more interested in ideological warfare than in working on policies that get the country back on track.
Fortunately, as President Obama prepares for his first address to Congress on Tuesday evening, voters of both parties have noticed. About three-quarters of those polled in a recent New York Times/CBS News survey — including more than 60 percent of Republicans — said Mr. Obama has been trying to work with Republicans. And 63 percent said Republicans in Congress opposed the stimulus package primarily for political reasons, not because they thought it would be bad for the economy. It should be sobering news for Republicans that about 8 in 10 said the party should be working in a bipartisan way.
The Republican Party’s attacks on the unemployment insurance portion of the stimulus package are a perfect example. States that accept the stimulus money aimed at the unemployed are required to abide by new federal rules that extend unemployment protections to low-income workers and others who were often shorted or shut out of compensation. This law did not just materialize out of nowhere. It codified positive changes that have already taken place in at least half the states.
To qualify for the first one-third of federal aid, the states need to fix arcane eligibility requirements that exclude far too many low-income workers. To qualify for the rest of the aid, states have to choose from a menu of options that include extending benefits to part-time workers or those who leave their jobs for urgent family reasons, like domestic violence or gravely ill children.
Data from the National Employment Law Project, a nonprofit group, show that 19 states qualify for some of the federal financing and that a dozen others would become eligible by making one or two policy changes. Unemployed workers are worst off in the Deep South, where relatively few people are eligible to receive payments. Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas stand out.
The governors are blowing smoke when they suggest that the federal unemployment aid would lead directly to new state taxes. No one knows what the economic climate will be when the federal aid has been used up several years from now. But by dumping billions of dollars into shrinking state unemployment funds, which puts money into the hands of people who spend it immediately on food and shelter, the stimulus could help the states through the recession and into a time when unemployment trust funds can be replenished. In other words, the stimulus could make a tax increase less likely.