Nancy Pelosi just designated the extension of unemployment benefits yet again—they were first extended in 2008 and have been continuously extended ever since—as Congress’s top priority for 2014, which is instructive. She called the Republican determination to end the extensions as “immoral;” others in her party and the media have called it heartless. “Starting tomorrow, too many American families will face the New Year with uncertainty, insecurity, and instability as a result of congressional Republicans’ refusal to extend critical unemployment insurance,” she said. “The first item on Congress’ agenda in the New Year must be an extension of unemployment insurance. That must be our priority on day one.” The budget deal cut between House Democrats and Republicans ends the extensions, unless something is done.
Pelosi’s argument is intellectually dishonest. I would like someone to define the exact point at which the number of families dependent on as yet unsuccessful job-seekers would no longer be regarded as “too many.” Isn’t any number too many? If the nation decides that it should provide a living stipend to the unemployed as long as they are jobless as policy, then so be it: I think that would be a mistake, as the Welfare experiment demonstrated and as the federal disability assistance programs continue to demonstrate, but that’s a debate that needs to be had. As seems to be habitual with the Democrats, they apparently want to make this the policy deceptively and without admitting so, by the device of never-ending “emergency extensions,” with spokespeople like Pelosi ready to hammer any opposition as a “heartless.”
Sure, I suppose its heartless. I suppose, if one regards the Federal Treasury as one big social welfare pool, that it’s also heartless to insist that the Federal Government isn’t responsible for paying for the food, housing, medical care, clothing, WiFi and cable TV service for Americans who can’t afford these necessities as well. I can’t argue that. Yup, it’s heartless. The fact that the United States is not a socialist nanny state that believes that tax payers should pay for all the basic human needs of non-taxpayers is, I suppose, heartless, but for better or worse, the core values of the United States were based on self-reliance, independence, working to support yourself, over-coming diversity, community support, risk-taking, coping with adversity, strength of character, and the free market. Though inveterate America-haters like Noam Chomsky and others disagree, the consensus of historical opinion is that the model has been remarkably successful, if one measures success by achievement, entrepreneurial success, innovation, national wealth, national character, and positive impact on world affairs. If one measures success according to what percentage of the public is dependent on the government, higher being better, then one would disagree.
Extending the unemployment benefits permanently is a policy that would please the latter group, and if that group will make its case honestly and directly, I won’t find ethical (as opposed to rational) fault with the decision to enact it. Doing so under the false representation that it is an “emergency measure,” however, is irresponsible, dishonest, and an attempt to bypass proper legislative process. That this is the Democrats’ goal should be obvious, since at no time have Pelosi and her minions offered a specific target unemployment percentage when the “emergency” would be over. This should make it obvious that they never see the emergency as being over, as indeed it won’t be, for someone. For that someone, the number of families without unemployment checks arriving will be one too many.
Let the advocates of perpetual unemployment stipends make their case, and let the public weigh in, knowing the real costs and consequences. If they see a time when they would not call the proponents of ending extended benefits “immoral” and “heartless,’ then let them explicate what that time is. Otherwise, doing the heartless thing is the only responsible course. We have a policy regarding unemployment, and we should stick to it, until we decide, openly and honestly, that another one is preferable.
Facts: The Hill