Last week, Republicans blocked yet another extension of unemployment benefits, and we can only hope they have the integrity and courage to do it again, in the face of predictable cries that they are cruel and heartless. The correct term is “fair and responsible.”
Well over a decade ago, President Clinton and a Republican Congress instituted welfare reform over similar accusations that it would spark tragedy and starvation. What it did was help end cycles of poverty and dependency. Hardly anyone except die-hard socialists argues that limiting welfare was a mistake today.
The serial extensions of unemployment benefits we have seen for two years, however, have become indistinguishable from welfare, and are now blatant political pandering to a large unemployed voter bloc in distress. The government is broke and in debt, and in no position to add an open-ended entitlement that pays Americans not to get jobs. Under what circumstances will the extensions end? If unemployment stays near 10%, will that mean that the Democrats and the media will insist that unemployment benefits never end? Is that the new policy in the U.S….permanent checks for the unemployed? I don’t recall ever hearing candidates for office debate that, perhaps because it is an insane idea that encourages people not to work, not to sell assets, not to borrow from friends and family, in short, to rely on the government to do something the government can neither afford nor properly add to its responsibilities. If we are going to move in that direction, I want to hear candidates justify the policy and explain how they will pay for it. Give me a reason to support a policy that takes my tax dollars out of what I earn in my job and gives it to someone who isn’t working because the available jobs are “beneath him.”
I spent a good part of the day reading arguments on-line from blog and news site commenters who insist that the benefits have to be extended. Their comments all can be summarized by a couple of statements: 1) “I need money” and 2) “The government has wasted money on wars, bail-outs and boondoggles, so how dare they be responsible now?” The first is simply begging, not logic; the second is the product of bias: of course the writer thinks his or her own welfare is a better expenditure than policies he disagreed with. Neither statement is persuasive, and our elected officials haven’t offered anything better.
The ad hoc extension policy, meanwhile, is guaranteed to be unfair. Explain to me why, for example, the jobless in a period of 10% unemployment should have perpetual benefits, but those who are in a 5% unemployment pool should have limited benefits. Is the second group more desperate than the first? I don’t see why. Less deserving? No. Is the country more able to provide assistance to the larger group? Well, actually, the nation is in better financial shape to extend benefits the lower the unemployment rate, and it is cheaper to send checks to fewer unemployed rather than more. If half the unemployed find jobs tomorrow, why would that argue for not extending benefits for the unfortunate group remaining? The fact is that the arguments for extending unemployment now will be just as valid–and invalid—ten years from now as they are today. Maybe that’s the plan.
If the Republicans are willing and able to insist on making real budget cuts pay for the next extension, that would be less irresponsible, but the only ethical course is to stop extending unemployment benefits at all, and now. The buffer for unemployment turned into back-door welfare long ago. We can’t afford it, it slows employment, and it makes the illogical and unfair statement that the unemployed during hard times deserve more assistance than those who are jobless when more of their neighbors are working.
And yes, I’ve been unemployed, and once had to find a way to make ends meet long after my benefits ran out. I took a lot of strange low-paying jobs during that period, and I would have loved to have the government just keep sending me checks instead, until i found my dream job. It was right not to do it, however.
It is right not to do it now, too.