EDITORIAL: Why the Delay in Reinstating Unemployment Benefits?

1/15/2014, 3 p.m.
The stench of corruption and complacency can be smelt all around Washington.
Waiting lines at unemployment offices continue to grow.

It seems increasingly unlikely that the Senate Republicans will vote for an extension of long-term unemployment benefits unless President Obama and their Democratic counterparts make some key – and possibly painful – concessions.

Since Congress’ session resumed last week, both sides have been wrangling over terms on which the Republicans would come to an agreement.

So while 1.3 million long-term, unemployed Americans dangle in the breeze, Republicans continue to argue on policy grounds as if human beings’ lives aren’t being deeply affected by the choices politicians make.

Some Congressional Republicans contend that by guaranteeing unemployment assistance for more than a year, those out of work will spend too much time trying to snag their dream job as opposed to settling on whatever they can find. Others argue that unemployment benefits weren’t supposed to be long-term anyway and in the interest of saving money, the benefits should end.

Many Democrats have voiced their support for re-instituting the benefits but a bill won’t pass without GOP support. As we noted in an earlier editorial, Obama and Democrats miscalculated by not demanding funding the program as a condition of supporting the recently passed budget.

While Senate Democrats fight to restore the program, Republicans want Democrats to somehow offset the $25 billion it would cost to restart the program.

The hypocrisy of those ostensibly concerned about the federal deficit is evidenced by some numbers: in 2012, according to Taxpayers for Commonsense, the government spent about $50 billion on public service programs, including food assistance and social welfare operations. At the same time, the feds doled out corporate welfare – in the form of tax breaks, subsidies and grants – to the tune of $92 billion to some of America’s most prominent businesses.

That included $4 billion in annual tax breaks to the top 5 oil companies such as Shell, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP and Conoco Phillips. The public is treated to the already discredited idea by conservatives and other politicians that the tax breaks trickle down to customers, but as noted by the Center for American Progress, gas prices continue to edge upwards and in 2012, the average American Household spent about $3,000 on gasoline.

And for the last several years, every quarter, oil companies make record profits. In 2012, Taxpayers for Commonsense reported, the oil companies, together earned $118 billion in profits, with $72 billion in cash reserves.

If the deficit hawks are so concerned about the federal deficit, they should start slashing rampant corporate welfare. But that’s not likely to happen because oil companies spend more than $300,000 a day lobbying Congress. The Center for Responsive Politics notes that the industry has spent $141 million for lobbying and that of the 728 lobbyists working for the oil industry, 445 of them are revolving door lobbyists – individuals who served in the House and Senate, the White House and the federal government before arriving at their lobbyist jobs. Further, during the 2012 election cycle, the oil and gas industry also spent $72.9 million on political contributions and millions more in campaign contributions in 2013.

The most callous of our elected officials have no regard for people’s suffering and some have said the unemployed should just go look for a job but three to four people are competing for every available job, the after effects of the recession. It’s very likely that more discouraged job seekers will stop looking for work because they no longer receive benefits which will be a further drag on the economy.

Some compassion, understanding and action from Congress is much needed but as Hamlet once said, “Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark.”

The stench of corruption and complacency can be smelt all around Washington. It’s sad and disconcerting in what passes for a democracy, but very real.