Ethics Heroes: Senate Republicans


Just say “No.”

Sneaking expensive entitlements into long-term national policy is craven, dishonest, and continues the dangerous trend of sloppy, election-driven legislating that has become virtually standard operating practice in recent years. Senate Republicans generated some hope for transparency and the future of honest debate on governing philosophy by using the threat of a filibuster to block yet another extension of the supposedly “short-term” extensions of unemployment benefits.

I’ve written about this recently, so I won’t belabor it, but there was nothing in Democratic rhetoric surrounding the extension to disprove my suspicion, which was  full-blown three years ago, that this is nothing but a strategy for embedding  a permanent government subsidy of unemployment without a national debate regarding the consequences of such a policy. A ‘temporary” benefit is permanent if elected representatives lack the integrity and courage to end it; for an example one need only look to the supposedly short-term “Bush tax cuts,” which a Democratic President and legislature, despite exorbitant rhetoric about how irresponsible they were (and irresponsible they were), extended, and they are in place still. There is not a single Democratic argument in favor of the supposedly temporary extension that would not apply to a policy of paying the unemployed forever. Here are some quotes from “The Hill” yesterday:

  • “We’re one Republican vote away from restoring benefits to 1.7 million Americans.  There is one Republican vote standing in the way of a lifeline to these 1.7 million people.”-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

1.7 million, 1 million, 657,000…when would such benefits not qualify, in Reid’s words, as a “lifeline”? If the answer is never, and it is, why would anyone believe these are intended to be temporary benefits? Isn’t the money just as crucial to an unemployed worker whether he or she has 1.7 million companions in misery, or fewer?

  • “We cannot allow one vote to stand in the way of supporting these Americans as they struggle to find work. Both sides of the aisle have worked together to prevent this kind of hardship in the past, and neglecting to do so now is unacceptable — especially given the high long-term unemployment rate.” —White House press secretary Jay Carney

“This kind of hardship” is called unemployment, and it was the same hardship before the benefits were indefinitely extended. As a nation that has, supposedly, decided to relay on personal responsibility, private enterprise and the market system, the United States made a cultural decision that the state would not permanently care for the unemployed, as in many European socialist nations…like Greece. The elimination of open-ended Welfare benefits under President Clinton was based on the discouraging results of that program. If the Democrats want to go backward—and they obviously do—let them argue for the permanent policy change, not accomplish their goal by a disingenuous series of endless “extensions” backed by emotional appeals. Note that Carney only said “especially” in reference to the high long-term employment rate. That means that he, and his President, and his party, also regard not extending benefits when there is not a high long-term employment rate, but just a normal one, “unacceptable.” Of course they do. That is what this is all about: Rahm Emanuel’s infamous, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Let’s impose a guaranteed income for all Americans, using the unemployment crisis as the wedge!

  • “And every week [Republicans] delay, another 73,000 Americans lose these crucial benefits — benefits that help them keep food on the table and a roof over their heads while they search for a job.”Reid.

This is a lie, you know. 73,000 Americans a week do not need these benefits, which are not means tested, to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads while they search for a job.” Why wouldn’t Reid say exactly the same thing if 50,000, or 25,000, or 1,000 Americans were losing their benefits? “If we can stop one child from going hungry..”

The last time I wrote about this, one of the site’s partisan defenders pointed out that the extensions have been tied to the unemployment rate reaching 6%.  So what? All of the rhetoric above could be, and as far as I can see, will be used to try to shame opponents into extending benefits until the number is 5%, or 3%…or 0%. Can’t you hear Harry weeping about the plight of the rare unlucky families who don’t have paychecks coming in during the booming economy?

I was certain that the Republicans would be unable to stand up to this. CNN led its story on the extension’s defeat with this, in part…

“Thursday’s vote in the Senate was third time Democrats have attempted unsuccessfully to pass legislation intended to help some 1.7 million people who have had their benefits cut off since the recession-era program expired on December 28. It has been extended 11 times since 2008 and doing so again is popular with 60% of Americans behind it, according to national polls. But the Republican-led House has yet to take any action and the majority of GOP members in the Senate don’t want it renewed. It doesn’t seem like good politics but it is a position Republicans are sticking to.Why?”

Gee, for some reason giving money away and paying people not to work is popular with a majority!  Then why wouldn’t any legislator not back such a policy? It’s not as if they are supposed to consider the best interests of the nation, fiscally and socially, after all—isn’t their only purpose to hold power?

I’m not going to be patient with commenters who say that this post isn’t empathetic with the unemployed. I’ve had my benefits run out. I’ve had to pay a mortgage with the bank account bare: I have no regular paycheck. I have members of my family who I love and worry about out of work. But caring about them means helping them to find jobs and be motivated, creative and diligent, not just handing them easy money every week. This is the United States, and at least as of this moment, the nation had chosen individual enterprise over the government’s perpetual womb, and for the most part, the choice has served us well. If America decides, fully informed and without campaigns of disinformation (like, “If you like your health insurance, you can keep your health insurance,” just to cite a wild hypothetical)  to become a full-fledged European, nanny-state socialist nation where the government pays the living expenses for everyone by taking the earned resources of those who have successfully managed to support themselves, that’s fine with me. It’s a democracy: let’s have the debate. Let the progressives and Democrats state, honestly, openly, transparently, exactly what policies they want to put in place forever.

This “temporary extension” ploy is the policy equivalent of crack cocaine, and the Republicans were correct and courageous to stop it.


Sources: The Hill, CNN

23 thoughts on “Ethics Heroes: Senate Republicans

  1. Your point that the United States ISN’T like other nations in regard to public welfare, would probably be (infuriatingly) used BY statists to condemn the United States.

    “Every other country in the world provides government maternity leave and unemployment benefits and free health care, but the United States doesn’t! We’re so backwards!”

    The US is at the top (or just shy of the top) of every possible standard-of-living metric, despite having 300 million people and welcoming millions of refugees and immigrants. We have the richest poor people in the world (and most prosperity indexes miss the fact that in places like Norway it’s prohibitively expensive to, say, buy a pizza.)

    You’d think maybe we’re doing something right, but the US and Zimbabwe are the only country not to provide X government benefit! Zimbabwe!

  2. Without diving into your arguments, there is one point to explain: 6%. That is generally considered the “natural” rate of unemployment. That is, given normal market operation, 6% of the workforce will be normally out of a job. Above that is deemed to represent adverse economic conditions, and so the target of 6% is meant to provide benefits until normal conditions return.

    • Jay Wolman; I could be wrong, but I thought it was 2%. Maybe that was in a strong economy, not a “normal” one. Or, maybe I am dealing with outdated information.

    • I know.But the tenor of the rhetoric isn’t pitched that way, and I don’t trust it. Do you? Once extended benefits have been in place for 4, 5 years, what are the odds of Congress having the integrity and courage to say, “Enough!” You may believe it; I don’t.

      • Jack, I understand. I just thought it would add to the consideration of this topic that there is a reason the target is 6%, not 0%. I am not saying once 6% is reached, some might not seek to extend until 0% is reached, but rather your argument that it won’t stop at 6% is less forceful when there’s a reason it was chosen.

    • The next question on unemployment benefits:

      If benefits would theoretically end at the achievement of 6% unemployment, then obviously we are comfortable with telling that cluster of people “do without until you find a job”

      Why then do we disburse benefits to the entire 7-11% unemployed?

      Wouldn’t we disburse only to the 1-5% that is above that comfortable 6% threshold?

      • You know…. There was a time when I had accepted a position in Edmonton, and I resigned my position in Winnipeg. Go figure, the StatsCan fellas phoned in and even though I was only temporarily between jobs, for a week in September of 2007, I was a statistic. 6% is seen as a natural unemployment number, it’s the number of people looking for a job out of school, or getting laid off and rehired, or or or… It’s meant to roll over. If someone is on Unemployment for six months…. That’s unusual.

      • I’m sorry, in re-reading your comment, I see what you were trying to say, and I kinda missed the boat.

        Relevant to your post is that it would be HELL to determine who falls into which category.

        • Perhaps. It seems it would be a simple function, that if 5-6% is generated by the natural flow of people in between work but looking and not necessarily in hardship, then I’d think it’d be matter of determining the average time “between” jobs that accounts for the 5-6% and make an arbitrary point of “you don’t get benefits* before that average time frame”.

          I think that function would account for the 5-6%.

    • A technical term to Google for, for anyone who wants to dig further, is NAIRU for “non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment”.

      • And Nauru is a small island in the middle of the Pacific. I humbly suggest that anyone fatuous enough to actually use an acronym like NAIRU in polite conversation be exiled to Nauru to toil endlessly in the phosphate mines. Guano to guano.

  3. What is it that these people don’t get about the corrosive effect of extending benefits yet another time to keep people at home watching daytime tv and not taking charge of their lives. There’s jobs out there. Maybe part time or menial labor. Just about everybody over 50 has worked those jobs. Why don’t the democrats stop enabling the lazy?

  4. As someone who lives in a “European, nanny-state socialist nation” (not as bad as some, but still), I just wanted to say I agree with you completely. Offer free money for life, and some people will take it, for life.

  5. When polls show that 60% of the population surveyed are in favor of extending UE benefits it is because that they have no understanding of opportunity costs. The fact that the US has been increasingly monetizing our debt for the last half century has caused many to believe that there is no cost of extending benefits. If we would frame the poll question by asking “how many people would support a policy of imposing a 1% tax surcharge on their income to support extending UE benefits for the long term unemployed” I bet the support for the position would drop precipitously.

    The political benefits of increasing debt with no intent to ever repay the principal is the crack cocaine of politicians and the electorate alike.

  6. Hello, Jack,

    This only addresses one of the several points you made, and granted the least important, but the numbers are relevant to a policy decision, even if hypothetically it were an objective decision rather than the emotional one you object to here.

    From a utilitarian point of view, to evaluate “the greatest good for the greatest number” it matters how large a number is.

  7. Are the Republicans ethical for having blocked an expenditure, or are they ethically obligated for the good of the country to offer a counter-proposal that has some chance of working?

    An example, which should fit well into Republican ideology, would be a payroll tax cut which would reduce the cost of hiring people. If you don’t like that example pick another one.

    If shouting “NO!” is sufficient to be ethical, there are a lot of 2-year-old ethics heroes out there.

    • An ethical obligation of anyone wanting to unleash America’s potential would be to end the income tax and end corporate taxes. Revert to the constitutional excise and sales taxes. End stifling regulations and replace big education with someone who will teach something other than the American political and economic system is inherently evil.

    • 1. Sure. Check the pile of bills regarding jobs the GOP House has sent over to the Senate, where Reid refused to allow them to be debated or voted on. Some wee nuts, some wouldn’t work, maybe all were lousy, but the claim that the Republicans haven’t had their own proposals is a misrepresentation.

      2. Saying no to bad policy is self-contained ethical obligation.

      3. Any 2-year old who shouts “NO!” to sneaky impositions of national policy with emotional arguments under the guise of “short-term measures” has my admiration and support…in that instance.

      4. Pretty good analogy, now that I think about it…

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