Gov’t Incapable of Scrounging $6 Billion in Offsets to Extend Unemployment Benefits

So the Senate
is talking about spending
$6.4 billion
to extend long-term unemployment benefits for
people somehow left out of the recovery (which if it were true,
would of course negate the need for the extension in question).
This extension would cover about three months of the program, which
would give folks up to a total of about 50 weeks of pay of up to
$300 per week.

The problem? Republicans don’t want to go along with this unless
the same amount of dough is cut from somewhere else in the federal
budget for fiscal 2014, which will be in the neighborhood of $4
trillion (it’s a pricey part of town). Senate Majority Leader Harry
Reid (D-Nev.)
said that’s a mistake
because “Each dollar that we spend on
unemployment insurance benefits increases gross domestic product by
$1.50.” If that were true, shouldn’t Reid and others be pushing for
much more such spending? Hell, if I could get that sort of
return on my investments, I’d be all in.

You may recall that not
so very long ago
, Dems and Reps got together to toss
sequestration cuts out the window and agree on spending an extra
$45 billion in 2014 plus another extra $20 on top of that in 2015.
Because, you know, nobody can get by spending the same amount of
money one year after another.

latest drama reminds me of the time in 2010 when basically the only
Republican in the Senate willing to insist on offsetting cuts as a
precondition for extending unemployment benefits was crazy old Jim
Bunning (R-Ky.), the Hall of Fame baseball pitcher whose
long-overdue retirement allowed Sen. Rand Paul to join the World’s
Greatest Deliberative Body. In
2010, Bunning’s insistence
that the government find savings
elsewhere was seen as just one more reason the old coot had to hang
up his cleats and go to that big dugout in the sky (or wherever
retired ballplayers and senators go).

But you know what? Bunning was right then and the Republicans
are right to insist on offsets now too. The idea that unemployment
benefits are really a super-efficient stimulus plan, a la Reid, is
a joke, and everyone knows it. ON NPR this morning, I heard Reid
channel Nancy Pelosi and claim that there’s nothing left to

If you’re going to make a humanitarian case in favor of
continually extending unemployment benefits, then make that
argument, for god’s sake. And recognize, too, that there are
legitimate reasons to be wary of infinitely extending long-term
unemployment benefits (which
have been extended
almost a dozen times since 2008). First and
foremost is a concern for displaced workers. Many economists
believe that to the extent that extended benefits dissuade people
from quickly taking jobs, they erode skills and future earnings of
the unemployed.

And if you’re the Republicans and are serious about
hunting for offsets, come up with ideas less byzantine than New
Hampshire Republican Sen.
Kelly Ayotte
‘s underwhelming plan to pay for the extension by
stopping illegal immigrants from claiming the additional child tax
credit on their income tax returns. You’re supposed to be the party
of small government. If that’s the best you can come up with in a
$4 trillion budget, just follow Jim Bunning’s lead and retire

from Hit & Run

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