Republican senators are pulling out every fake excuse they can think of for filibustering an extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed Tuesday. The majority leader, Harry Reid, was mean to us and wouldn't let us offer amendments, they say. Democrats refused to pay for the benefits. It's President Barack Obama's fault people can't find work because he won't approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The truth is the Republican Party simply does not believe that job-seekers who have been out of work for six months or longer deserve government assistance. The most hardhearted believe cutting benefits will give people an incentive to get back to work. The most cynical are hoping for widespread misery, which they can then pin on "Obama's economy" for political gain in the elections this fall. Whatever the reason, nearly 5 million unemployed people will go without benefits by the end of 2014, unless the party backs down.
The most appalling demand from Republicans was that the benefits be paid for with cuts to other programs. For example, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire proposed requiring that parents have a Social Security number to receive the child tax credit - a move that would eliminate an important anti-poverty measure for millions of children who are citizens though their parents are not.
In the past, Congress has generally extended emergency jobless benefits without demanding an offset. The current level of long-term unemployment, about 2.6 percent, is much higher than it was when previous emergency jobless benefits expired and were renewed.
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The demand for offsets is highly selective. Last month, a group of more than 60 tax breaks expired, and members of both parties said they were willing to renew them without finding an offset. These breaks are the usual Washington mix of important and useless, ranging from wind-production credits to a deduction for racehorse owners; they would cost $50 billion a year to renew. A year of unemployment insurance costs about $26 billion. Republicans are happy to give out government benefits, but not to those who need them the most.