Unemployment benefits extensions are set to expire on Tuesday, Nov. 30. At the moment, there doesn’t seem to be many on Capitol Hill overly concerned that another two million people, many of whom seem the extensions as their only financial lifeline in a flat and nearly jobless economy, will soon see their unemployment benefits disappear. According to OpenCongress.org, there is nothing about unemployment benefits scheduled for introduction or debate in Congress on the last two days of November.
The lame duck House of Representatives is in session. For Republicans, that means that anything they oppose can be delayed, voted against, tabled, shelved, or sent on to the Senate to be filibustered. The lame duck Congress is not only in session, it is in season. And Republicans are loaded and prepared to maim and kill off as much of the Democratic legislation as they can push through in the next few weeks before the Republican-heavy 112th Congress convenes.
Part of that lame duck legislation is emergency unemployment benefits and the Tier unemployment extensions. Republicans already knocked down a proposal to extend unemployment benefits through February 2011. They argued that the Democratic proposal did not pay for the extensions and would therefore increase the deficit and the national debt. Instead of compromise or finding the means to pay for the unemployment benefits extensions, Democrats simply fell back on the argument that the unemployment extensions were necessary for a sluggish economy and that there had never been an instance where the unemployment rate was above 7 percent and the U. S. Congress had denied unemployed Americans emergency benefits.
in short: the Republicans are crying fiscal and future expenditure responsibility (something their record indicates they know little about) to deny benefits while the Democrats cry economic and humanitarian necessity (while ignoring fiscal responsibility and therefore playing into Republicans’ hand).
But as the last unemployment benefits extension package reaches expiration, there are rumblings of a deal whereby the Republicans, who are exceptionally interested in continuing the Bush tax cuts to all Americans (including the 2-3 percent of the income earners that are among the wealthiest in the nation), might be open to a compromise with Democrats, who only want to extend the Bush tax cuts for those making less than $250,000 per year. Some believe that Republicans might find leeway in their opposition to the unpaid-for unemployment benefits extensions if the Democrats allow the passage of continuation legislation for the Bush tax cuts, which will expire at the end of the year. This deal would include President Obama’s signature of approval.
In short, in order for millions that might see homelessness, financial ruin, and/or another financial lifeline extinguished in the next few weeks (or months, if benefits remain unextended through January and so on), Congress will be working on a December deal where the richest and those able to afford the cessation of the Bush tax cuts, not to mention adding nearly a trillion dollars to the national deficit over the next decade.
Sounds like a deal being negotiated by people who have the time and money to do so. While millions are watching their unemployment benefits (which average — with an emphasis on average — around $300 per week) expire in an economy that is producing only one job (and usually one that underpays the unemployed prospective job seeker) for every individual looking for work, a group of legislators that count amongst themselves 261 millionaires (according to OpenSecrets.org) will try to reach a compromise on legislation that will extend benefits to the jobless and extend tax cuts to the nation’s wealthiest.
Having plenty of money and receiving a paycheck that exceeds $3,346 per week (which is the current regular salary of each member of Congress — $174,000 per year) apparently dulls one’s senses to the urgency of those struggling to simply maintain their household and find meaningful employment. As the Bush tax cuts expiration date nears, it will be interesting to note how quickly Republicans and Democrats come together to get something passed in the lame duck Congress. Because there is little doubt that the Bush tax cuts — all of them — will now be extended in order for both parties to get what they want. It is now just a matter of negotiating the terms of compromise.
And how lame the Democrats really are will be seen in the number of months of unemployment benefits extension they command in order to give the Republicans (and the wealthy) their precious tax cuts. Given the economic expectations of the coming year (unemployment to remain relatively level with its current rate) and the damage to the national debt the Bush tax cuts will incur in the next decade, anything less than a year of unemployment benefits extensions would be lame indeed.