Commentary: A Budget Agreement With a Heartless Omission

Commentary: A Budget Agreement With a Heartless Omission

The House passed a bipartisan budget deal, but did nothing to extend unemployment benefits for the very Americans who need assistance the most.

Published December 13, 2013

The agreement reached Thursday in the House of Representatives on a budget has been hailed as a triumph of rare bipartisan workmanship in Washington. Indeed, it was that, even though it offered some modest budgetary achievements.

But for all the House was able to achieve in this budget accord, there was a glaring omission on the list of accomplishments that represents an embarrassing and hard-hearted position: The decision not to extend unemployment benefits for three months.

It is a cruel and callous position, one that hurts the very people who need assistance the most, many of them African-American and Latino.

For roughly 1.3 million Americans, their major line of economic support – unemployment benefits – will expire on Dec. 28. These are people who have spent time contributing to the nation’s economy by holding jobs. But when their moment of need comes, right in the midst of the holiday season, the House of Representatives has given them the coldest of shoulders.

"If Congress refuses to act, it won’t just hurt families already struggling,” President Obama said last week. “It will actually harm our economy. Unemployment insurance is one of the most effective ways there is to boost our economy.”

But that was apparently of little significance to the Republican leadership of the House, who in their negotiations with Democratic Senate leaders decided there was no need to provide this lifeline of assistance to Americans living on the margins.

For some reason, Republicans in Congress provide extraordinary lip service about their commitment to the needs of everyday Americans. But, when it comes to providing extended benefits for the very citizens who need them the most, they become utterly deaf.

Consider the words of Sen. Rand Paul, Republican in Kentucky, on the subject of extending unemployment benefits beyond 26 weeks.

“If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers," he said, speaking on Fox News Sunday. He added: “When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you're causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy.”

Paul, like other Republican leaders, is suggesting that the people who have lost their jobs and now have no financial support from unemployment benefits need only go out and look for work in an economy where jobs are incredibly scarce.

It is worth adding these comments came shortly after Paul traveled to Detroit to urge African-Americans to consider joining ranks with the Republican Party. Why would residents of Detroit, a city that is 85 percent African-American with staggeringly high Black unemployment, find this kind of policy endearing? Is it a wonder that his appearance to court Black Detroiters wound up with an audience that was nearly all-white?

The one hope on the horizon is that Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader of that body, makes good on his commitment to make the extension of unemployment benefits a priority when Congress returns to work after the holiday break. It would be the right thing for Congress as well as for the country.

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(Photo: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Written by Jonathan P. Hicks


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