Sunday, November 28, 2010

GOP screws 9/11 responders, unemployed, and poor: Happy holidays to the rich and corporate elite!

I'm really struggling to prevent my head from exploding over the very revealing juxtaposition of bills, policies, and positions swirling around the end of the 2010 legislative session.

The economy is still bad. There is only one job opening* for every five people looking for work, which means that even if all jobs were filled and none were lost, unemployment would only decrease by 20%.

After spending over a trillion on our wars in the Middle East, the GOP is suddenly concerned with deficits.

So what's on the table right now?

Extending Unemployment Insurance: The clock is ticking on extending unemployment benefits; the bill must be passed next week or unemployed workers' benefits will begin to stop. The unemployed are accused of being lazy even though there are objectively not enough jobs for everyone looking. In fact, there usually aren't -- 100% employment is bad for capitalists because then the employees, not the owners, have the leverage. But typically there are 1-2 people looking for every job opening, not 5-6 as we've had in this recession, which makes the negative impact of unemployment on the rest of the economy that much greater. Unemployment benefits are needed not only to help the human beings in need, but to mitigate the negative economic impacts of mass unemployment.

Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010: The Child Nutrition Act gets reauthorized every five years. The Senate version passed in August, only after paying for the $4.5 billion program with program cuts, most of which ($2.2 billion) came from the food stamps program (SNAP). The House version did not include those cuts, and has been stalled for that reason. The cuts in SNAP essential shift the locus of inadequate nutrition from the lunchroom to the dining room. If the bill isn't passed before the break, the process begins all over again.

The 9/11 Illness Payout Bill: A bill providing funds to cover the medical costs for 9/11 first responders. The bill passed the House (even surviving a Republicans threat to add an amendment that would bar undocumented workers from receiving the benefits, as if their suffering from helping our fellow citizens wasn't worth paying for), but the bill is now stuck in the Senate. I can't believe this is even an issue, but the GOP has made it one: the bill will be paid for by closing corporate tax loopholes, and Republican senators are framing it as a tax increase.

So let's sum this up:

  • We have Republicans who have spent over $1 trillion on wars this decade wanting to cut the deficit, but refuse to fund the health care of those who risked their life in the events that were the so-called reason d'etre for those wars. They also refuse to cut military spending. 
  • Republicans also want to increase the deficit by giving tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, but refuse to allow more adequate child nutrition--that would lower health care costs and improve cognitive functioning of our poorest children, not to mention their basic quality of life--without robbing Peter to pay Paul.
  • Republicans want the wealthiest in the United States to get tax cuts, and are holding middle class tax cuts hostage to do so, while the unemployed, who by definition cannot become employed, are stripped of their poverty-level average UI benefit of $290/week ($15,000/year). Tax cuts for the rich are heralded by the GOP as a economy booster and job creator, even though unemployment benefits and the aforementioned food stamp program provide more economic stimulus than tax cuts of any sort. Businesses do not hire out of the goodness of their heart or because people need jobs. They hire when there is a need for more labor. Giving them a tax break doesn't increase their need for more labor. Unemployment and food dollars being spent does. Those programs are not only right (or just), but they are effective.
What on earth is the logic here? The only one I can find is chilling: demanding to maintain military might by misunderstanding the source of terrorism and adherence to economic ideology despite the facts is worth more than helping those in need. Both GOP positions are self-serving. Especially at this holiday time of the year, this ought to be a stinging indictment of GOP policies and positions, if people would only see the forest, rather than the individual trees.

*The Cato Institute has criticized this number, saying that there are jobs available that aren't advertised, and therefore that that number is misleading. Even still, I highly doubt there are enough unadvertised jobs to even get close to filling the gap. further, these jobs are obtaining through personal networks, or what sociologists call social capital, something largely part of the privilege of one's upbringing, as opposed to human capital, such as one's education. This begs the questions, are these jobs really "available" to the millions of job seekers, or just those who are already well-connected?

(Cross-posted to Speak Truth to Power.)

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