EDITORIAL: A Budget Agreement, Finally

12/18/2013, noon
People are hurting and need help, but no help seems forthcoming from these elected officials. Let's hope voters remember in ...
The U.S. Capitol dome in Washington, D.C.

For the first time in four years, Republicans and Democrats have agreed on a budget which averts the usual 11th-hour shenanigans or complete breakdowns all too often associated with Congress. The deal avoids another fiscal crisis, averts a shutdown and eliminates select sequester cuts in favor of revenue increases and spending cuts.

Obstructionism, hyper-partisanship, and an unwillingness to compromise have been the hallmark of relations between Congress and President Obama, and among Democrats and their Republican counterparts. So passing a budget is quite an accomplishment for a body that has gained the dubious distinction of being the least productive and the most unpopular Congress in history.

The biggest winner appears to be the Pentagon which gets $23 billion to offset the vagaries of the sequester which took a huge chunk of their budget.

While Democrats were able to resist Republican attempts to slash Social Security or Medicare, more than 1.3 million unemployed Americans will see their emergency unemployment benefits stopped and thus, lose a vital safety net.

Budget negotiators faced resistance from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats who were determined to add $25 billion to extend unemployment benefits. In the aftermath, Democrats are promising that next year they will produce legislation to restart jobless benefits. The plan is to squeeze out an extension by refusing to support the House’s reauthorization of the Farm Bill unless Republicans give their assent and use savings from the Farm Bill to fund unemployment benefits.

It’s extremely disappointing that the White House and the Democratic leadership didn’t make continuing unemployment benefits a pre-condition of passing the budget. That would have made more sense, but it’s likely that they were more concerned about consummating some type of deal.

Some Republicans’ continuous and concerted efforts to deny unemployment benefits to the unemployed speaks to a certain callousness that defines the current crop of so-called leaders. Some, such as Sen. Rand Paul and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, are on record as saying that ending unemployment benefits for four million long-term unemployed workers will be an incentive for them to go and find a job.

But the position these Republicans hold continues the narrative of “givers” and “takers.” Those who’re jobless for long periods of time isn’t because they're lazy. One need only look at how anemic the economy has been and how many people are out of work to see the absurdity of such an assertion – the jobs aren’t there. Economists and other experts note that there are between three or four people looking for a job for every position available.

Too many Republicans in the House, and not a few senators, are oblivious to the steady erosion of the middle class. President Obama said as much two weeks ago during an important economic speech at THEARC in Southeast Washington, D.C.: “… we know that people’s frustrations run deeper than these most recent political battles. Their frustration is rooted in their own daily battles – to make ends meet, to pay for college, buy a home, save for retirement. It’s rooted in the nagging sense that no matter how hard they work, the deck is stacked against them. And it’s rooted in the fear that their kids won’t be better off than they were. They … experience in a very personal way the relentless, decades-long trend … a dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility that has jeopardized middle-class America’s basic bargain – that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead.”

People are hurting and need help, but no help seems forthcoming from these elected officials. Let’s hope voters remember in 2014.