Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Way the Wind Blows

"You don't need a weather man
To know which way the wind blows."

Bob Dylan

The House joined the Senate today in supporting an extension of unemployment benefits.

The unemployed will welcome the money. Rent must be paid. Food must be purchased. Clothes, too — and if you're unemployed and you've got minor children, you've got back–to–school items (clothing, notebooks, textbooks) to think about as well.

Jobs are gone, but day–to–day expenses continue.

But, in many households, even the basics have been put on hold for the last couple of months because Congress could not agree to extend benefits.

I know a lot of people who have been out of work for a long time. Folks in Congress like to describe the unemployed as unmotivated, lacking ambition, preferring to collect from the government than find a job. But the problem is that there just haven't been any jobs out there — and no one in Washington has been making much of an effort to encourage job creation.

None of the unemployed sought this, and none (to my knowledge) would rather live on unemployment checks than paychecks. But what choice have they had?

Both the Democrats and the Republicans in Congress should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for the way they have allowed unemployed Americans to become their political pawns.

Since Democrats like to talk so much about blame, let's get that part out of the way from the start, shall we?

This whole thing really got started when the Republicans in Congress — who had no problem with spending money they didn't have back when they controlled Congress and the White House and then needed the Democrats' help to pass the banking bailout in the fall of 2008 — have rediscovered their frugal roots. Thus, when the opportunity came up — in an election year — to strike a blow for PR by refusing to extend unemployment benefits until they could be demonstrably funded, they took it.

Took it? Hell, they jumped at it.

Then Congress took its Fourth of July vacation. Happy Independence Day.

Now, Congress is on the verge of dismissing for its summer vacation. And, when it returns, many lawmakers will be preoccupied with their campaigns for re–election back home — so it's unlikely that anything will get done.

Polls have been showing that Americans have been more worried about jobs than anything else for quite awhile. And they're understandably surly about the lack of interest they perceive in their lawmakers.

So, earlier this week, Barack Obama took the opportunity to publicly call for an extension of the benefits and criticize the Republicans he so eagerly sought to appease last year.

Don't get me wrong. Obama was right to criticize the Republicans. But he and the Democrats deserve just as much blame as their Republican counterparts. Obama did not exercise his presidential authority and insist that Congress remain in session back in the late spring/early summer until something was done about unemployment benefits.

And the unemployed were made to suffer some more.

Now, with all indicators showing that the Democrats are facing major setbacks at the polls in November, they have decided that they prefer not to alienate a group as large as the unemployed/underemployed/partially employed. So they belatedly passed the benefits extension today. Presumably, Obama will sign it into law soon.

But that's why this bill was passed today. Neither party wanted to be seen as hostile to people who are down on their luck. They both want the unemployed to vote for them in November. They both would like to save money — but they both want to be elected more.

Shame on both of you.

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