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The Long-Term Unemployment Benefits Vote: Use the "F" Word

Sunday, 12 January 2014 09:21 By Dave Johnson, Campaign for America's Future | Op-Ed
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House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) at the Capitol for a news conference in Washington, Dec. 3, 2013. (Photo: Gabriella Demczuk / The New York Times)House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) at the Capitol for a news conference in Washington, Dec. 3, 2013. (Photo: Gabriella Demczuk / The New York Times)

Filibuster. Use the word. Call it what it is. Succeed or not, Republicans are trying to filibuster the effort to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. A majority want this to pass, but Republicans are trying to block it with a filibuster. If Democrats are able to break the filibuster and pass this in the Senate, it goes to the House, where Speaker John Boehner will likely refuse to allow a vote because a majority supports it there, and it would pass.

This is obstruction. Use the word. It is a pattern the country is now painfully familiar with.

Economic Sabotage

Economic sabotage. Use the words. The Republican strategy of economic sabotage and obstruction rolls along: More than 440 filibusters so far in the Senate since President Obama took office and continual refusals to allow votes in the House. All of these have hurt the economy.

There is just no question that killing this long-term unemployment assistance hurts the economy. About 1.3 million people immediately lost their assistance and 3.6 million more will lose theirs. The economy is losing $1 billion a week since the December 28 expiration of federal long-term unemployment benefits and that number increases each week as more people stop getting their checks. These people will not be shopping at local stores, buying food, paying rent or mortgages ... and will have to turn to public assistance like Food Stamps, Medicaid, etc. — so this is not about "saving money."

At Salon Brian Beutler uses the words and lays it out in "GOP's ulterior motive on unemployment: Economic sabotage?"

Congress has never cut off these benefits when unemployment has been as high as it is right now, and the long-term unemployed and the chronically poor aren't equivalent populations. So there's got to be more going on than just conservative indifference.

... Unemployment benefits make people's lives better and buoy a fragile, but possibly accelerating recovery. Some Republicans are apparently reluctant to give the economy, and by extension the Democrats, a shot in the arm right now.

Republicans have blocked/obstructed/filibustered every effort to help the economy and create jobs, blocked infrastructure projects, cut scientific research that drives the future economy, cut teachers, cut funds for higher education and forced the layoff of public workers everywhere they can, and we remain mired in this bad economy. Their plan? To run against Democrats on the slogan that the economy isn't better.

They block all of Obama's policies, then they claim it is "Obama's policies" holding the economy back.

Who Benefits?

Who benefits when Americans can't find jobs, don't get unemployment checks, and can't even get Food Stamps? The answer is that there actually are people who benefit from a large pool of desperate people, willing to take any nasty, humiliating, low-wage, dangerous job they can get. There actually are people who want the wages of Americans to fall. There actually are people who make a lot of money as employee pay goes down.

Look at which interest groups are pushing for Republicans to filibuster and obstruct extending unemployment assistance.

The Hill writes that the "Club for Growth urges 'no' vote on extension of jobless benefits." ThinkProgress explains who the Club for Growth is. (Hint: It's Wall Street.)

"Chaired by prominent Wall Street investors like Thomas Rhodes and Richard Gilder, as well as the wealthy and reclusive Howie Rich, the Club collects funds from employees of J.P. Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, while being buoyed by large donations like a $1.4 million contribution from investor Stephen Jacksons of Stephens Groups Inc. "

People For the American Way's Right Wing Watch says of the Club for Growth (CFG): "CFG has more than 9,000 members, dominated by Wall Street financiers and executives."

Why do you think Wall Street opposes helping the unemployed? Because helping the unemployed keeps wages from falling too far.

Excuses

Republicans have cover stories they use so they can say they are not just sabotaging the economy for political (and corporate profit) gain.

They say extending unemployment assistance and other forms of aid has to be "paid for." But remember, Republicans also filibustered (obstructed) every effort to stop oil company subsidies and tax breaks, to stop other corporate tax breaks– even the tax break for offshoring jobs. And denying unemployment assistance obviously forces people onto other assistance. So, no, this certainly is not about being "paid for."

Another excuse was expressed by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who said unemployment benefits keep people from working. He said this is a "disservice" to the unemployed. Other conservative and Republican voices echo the sentiment that people are out of work because they are too "comfortable" and don't "have to" get a job. At Fox News, economist Peter Morici writes in "Extended unemployment benefits slow growth, hoax on working poor," that unemployment assistance "encourages many unemployed to postpone serious employment searches." He writes, "From Wall Street to Main Street, white-collar professionals have delayed accepting lower pay and changing occupations by running down savings and collecting maximum unemployment benefits of about $300 a week." Morici even writes, "Unemployment benefits caused most of the persistently high unemployment after the Great Recession."

Never mind how insulting this is to Americans who are in desperate straits, the idea that people won't take jobs because they get unemployment assistance is laughable on its face at a time when there is only one job for every three people looking.

Others say that paying unemployment benefits and encouraging higher wages for working people are policies that "redistribute" or "take money" from the rightful "owners" of companies to "takers" who wouldn't be receiving anything if the government were not butting in...

Use The 'F' Word

By the time you read this the Senate might have voted on breaking the Republican filibuster of the extension of unemployment assistance for the long-term unemployed. Filibuster, I used the 'F' word. That is what is going on here. It is not "a procedural vote" or "a test vote." That is nonsense. It is an effort to break a Republican filibuster. Use the 'F' word.

And Republican leaders have stopped innumerable bills from coming to a vote in the House, because they would pass. This is obstruction. Use the 'O' word.

I repeat: There have been more than 440 filibusters since President Obama took office. The public does not know that, and this lack of understanding enables a strategy of economic sabotage. If the public was told – plainly and clearly – about the obstruction that is occurring, democracy might have a chance to work its magic. Media, do your job.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Dave Johnson

Dave Johnson (Redwood City, CA) is a Fellow at Campaign for America's Future, writing about American manufacturing, trade and economic/industrial policy. He is also a Senior Fellow with Renew California.

Dave has more than 20 years of technology industry experience including positions as CEO and VP of marketing. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. And he was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.


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