Commentary: GOP Leaders Need to Move on Jobless Benefits

The Senate took a procedural vote to get closer to a vote on extending unemployment benefits, but the House seems nowhere near such a move.

Posted: 01/07/2014 03:14 PM EST

There is something so callous, so incredibly hard-hearted about the statements of House Speaker John Boehner concerning extending unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans whose federal financial support ended a few short days after Christmas.

The Senate voted Monday to move to the next hurdle legislation that would provide an additional three months of payments for people who get unemployment benefits, with six Republicans joining the Democrats.

What will the House do? The speaker, just back from a long holiday vacation, said that any extension of unemployment benefits must be tied to some cost-cutting in another aspect of the federal budget.

“To date, the president has offered no such plan,” Boehner said. “If he does, I’ll be happy to discuss it. But right now the House is going to remain focused on growing the economy and giving America’s unemployed the independence that only comes from finding a good job.”

So, for now, unemployed Americans seeking some assistance to make sure their rent is paid, that food is in their kitchen or that utilities are maintained will find no support from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. They will only find a cold shoulder from the party that pays lip service to searching for ways to address the empathy gap.

Somehow, Boehner and his fellow Republicans in the House don’t seem to understand the emergency that the termination of benefits creates for their fellow Americans. Furthermore, they seem to treat unemployment benefits as some kind of handout rather than something people deserve after spending years paying into the system with their federal taxes.

It’s rather like asking that aid to victims of a natural calamity such as a hurricane or flood be denied aid until such time as the White House can come up with ways to pay for the cost of emergency assistance.

The fact is that there are three times more unemployed Americans as there are jobs for them to fill. President Obama, speaking in the White House in front of a group of unemployed Americans, made the point that depriving people of the means to keep a roof over their heads and making their car payments only further cripples their ability to look for work.

“I meet a lot of people as president of the United States, and before that as a senator," Obama said. “And I can’t name a time when I met an American who would rather have an unemployment check than the pride of having a job.”

This is a hard sell to Republicans in the House, however. And there are no high-powered lobbyists for the unemployed on Capitol Hill to help make that case.

Still, if the Republicans wish to fare better with the American public than they did in the 2012 presidential election, they must somehow remember that unemployed Americans who rely on federal support are their neighbors, their fellow church members and, indeed, their very constituents.

If they continue to turn a blind eye to Americans who have played by the rules and have fallen on hard times, they will undoubtedly be held accountable on a not-too-distant election day.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks. 

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Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan

(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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