June 24, 2010

Why are Republicans so consistently morally bereft? (And why do so many Democrats take their cue from them?) Thank heavens for senators like Sheldon Whitehouse, who speak so powerfully about the plight of the unemployed:

A trio of Senate Democrats took the floor Tuesday evening to denounce the Republican party for its unwillingness to add the cost of extended unemployment benefits to the deficit. Extended unemployment benefits put in place by the stimulus bill expired on June 1, interrupting checks for some 903,000 people so far.

"I understand the point about the debt and the deficit and the spending," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). "But to me, that doesn't have an enormous amount of credibility, because when President Clinton left office, he left an annual surplus... At the end of [George W. Bush's] term, we had $9 trillion in debt."

"We would have none of this if it hadn't been for the Republican debt orgy that they went through," Whitehouse said.

There are currently five jobseekers for every available opening, but a major obstacle to reauthorizing currently-expired extended benefits has been deficit concerns supplemented by the suspicion that the benefits discourage people from looking for work. Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.) called the benefits, which average $320 per week, "too much of an allure." Democrats in both the House and Senate, too, have said business owners tell them they're having trouble hiring because of extended benefits.

Whitehouse confronted that argument.

"The notion that you're going to cut off somebody's unemployment insurance and have them go out and find a job is just plain nuts," said Whitehouse. "There aren't a lot of people lying around enjoying the luxury of unemployment insurance payments. They want to be getting to work."

In normal times, states provide six months of benefits to people laid off through no fault of their own, but to fight the stimulus bill and subsequent measures to fight the recession provided the unemployed 99 weeks of benefits in some states. The House passed a bill to reauthorize the benefits, along with several other now-expired domestic aid programs, but the bill is stalled in the Senate, as unified Republicans and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson withhold their support.

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