Thursday, June 24, 2010

Quote of the Day: Sheldon Whitehouse on the "tax extenders" bill and the "Republican debt orgy"

Last night, Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island took to the floor of the Senate to address the ongoing Republican opposition to restoring extended unemployment benefits that, under the stimulus bill, expired on June 1. He pinned the blame exactly where it belongs:

I understand the point about the debt and the deficit and the spending. But to me, that doesn't have an enormous amount of credibility, because when President Clinton left office, he left an annual surplus... At the end of [George W. Bush's] term, we had $9 trillion in debt. We would have none of this if it hadn't been for the Republican debt orgy that they went through.

I understand the need for fiscal sanity, too, but at a time of economic crisis -- and we're not out of it yet -- punishing the unemployed is hardly the right thing to do. And it really is ridiculous to think that many of the unemployed are living happily off government benefits. Whitehouse continued:

The notion that you're going to cut off somebody's unemployment insurance and have them go out and find a job is just plain nuts. There aren't a lot of people lying around enjoying the luxury of unemployment insurance payments. They want to be getting to work.

Welfare is always an "allure," as Republicans have put it, but it's also a necessary safety net precisely for times like this. And it's not just the unemployed who will suffer at the hands of the Republicans. As Arthur Delaney of HuffPo reports:

Democratic leaders in the Senate have apparently failed to win enough support to overcome a Republican filibuster of a bill to help the poor, the old and the jobless, despite making a series of cuts to the measure over the past several weeks to appease deficit hawks.

"It looks like we're going to come up short," said a senior Democratic aide on Wednesday evening. "It looks like Republicans are prepared to kill aid to states, an extension of unemployment benefits, and ironically, the Republicans are prepared to kill efforts to close loopholes that allow companies to export jobs overseas."

The legislation, known as the "tax extenders" bill, would reauthorize extended unemployment benefits for people out of work for six months or longer, would protect doctors from a 21 percent pay cut for seeing Medicare patients, and would provide billions in aid to state Medicaid programs.

Come Friday, 1.2 million people will lose access to the extended unemployment benefits, a number that will grow by several hundred thousand every week after that.

As Steve Benen correctly notes, the votes are actually there for the bill. The problem is the filibuster, and the Republicans won't even let the bill get to the floor for a vote:

Democrats appear to have lined up 58 votes, but in the Senate, 42 is greater than 58, even when our economic health is on the line.

In the real world, this means millions of jobless Americans will lose their already-modest benefits, and hundreds of thousands of workers will be laid off over the next year, including teachers, police officers, and firefighters. All of this will happen because Republicans are more concerned about the deficit -- a deficit they created under Bush/Cheney -- than the economy.

It's unpleasant to think about, and I really hope it's not true, but it may be time for a discussion about whether GOP lawmakers are trying to deliberately sabotage the economy to help their midterm election strategy. After all, these same Republicans have supported deficit-financed tax-extenders before -- there's no credible reason to change course now. On the contrary, with the economy struggling to break through, the need for this package is more obvious, not less, if your goal is to actually improve economic conditions.

I think that's a discussion we need to have. Senate Republicans, including the supposed moderates like Susan Collins and joined by "Democrat" Ben Nelson, seem to be doing everything in their power to block economic recovery and destroy the safety net that so many American need, a net that will allow many of them to get back on their feet again. Pat Garofalo at Think Progress writes that at least 200,000 jobs could be lost from withholding aid to state Medicaid programs. And in addition to cutting benefits to the unemployed, the failure to pass the bill, the Republican failure, would lead to dramatic cuts to services all across the country, according to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report cited by Garofalo:

Arizona would have to cut funding for its state court system, Colorado's likely cuts "include eliminating state aid for full-day kindergarten for 35,000 children, eliminating preschool aid for 21,000 children, and increasing overcrowding in juvenile detention facilities," while New Mexico "could eliminate a wide range of Medicaid services, including emergency hospital services, inpatient psychiatric care, personal care assistance for the disabled, prescribed medications, and hospice care."

And so on, and so on. And yet Republicans don't seem to care, so focused are a few of them on the deficit and many more of them either on playing politics by trying to sabotage the Democrats' agenda or on slashing government altogether, cutting even essential services like health care and policing. And even significant Democratic concessions haven't won over any Republicans.

It's all quite appalling, and so deeply harmful both to the economy broadly and to the American people, so many of whom will continue to suffer through the worst economic situation since the Great Depression. The stupid filibuster rule in the Senate is partly to blame, for even a party with a large majority that actually wants to do something is stuck, but the blame really does need to be on the Republicans, who seem to have zero interest in compromise and zero interest in doing what is right for the country. It is imperative that voters remember this come November.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share


Post a Comment

<< Home