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The Benefits of Benefits

The president’s preferred topic of conversation today is extending benefits for the long-term unemployed, and it’s no wonder why. He’d rather the public talk about anything other than Obamacare or his ex-Secretary of Defense’s new tell-all book, and the benefits issue poses obvious political problems for the Republicans.
If the Republicans don’t agree to yet another extension of benefits for people who have been idled since the Crash of ’08 the media will eagerly caricature them as heartless top-hatted and moustache-twirling villains tying the poor to the metaphorical railroad tracks, and there are bound to be some among the 1.3 million people affected who will make for sympathetic victims in the inevitable sob stories. If the Republicans quickly cave to the president’s demand it will further enrage an already restive conservative base that suspects them of being lily-livered big government bleeding hearts, and has good reason to suspect that there are some among those 1.3 million who well deserve a quick kick off the dole. Throw in the opportunity for the president to come back from his Hawaiian vacation to prattle on about that economic equality hogwash his base so dearly loves, and it seems sure winner for the Democrats.
The best response the Republicans have come up with is to go along with the extension, but only if its $6.4 billion price is paid for with money taken from somewhere else in the vast federal budget. It won’t prevent from the networks from airing serial installments of The Perils of Unemployed Pauline on the nightly news, nor will it placate the more rock-ribbed of the right-wing radio talkers who speak for that restive base, but it is hard to think of anything better. Criticism from all corners of the media will be at least somewhat muted, which these days is the best that can be hoped for, and one can at least hope that fair-minded fence-sitters might find it no more ridiculous than the Democrats’ position.
Democratic claims that paying people to be unemployed is good for the economy are so laughable that even the lowest-information voters are likely to notice, and even the likes of CNN have noticed that the Democrats’ insistence on helping these hapless victims of the economic downturn contradict their recent claims that happy days are here again. There are still three applicants for every newly created job, according to the administration’s own spokesmen, and using that sad fact to justify another multi-billion dollar welfare program surely entails its own political risks. With only $6.4 billion at stake, a mere rounding error in the great money-sucking federal machinery, the whole affair should be long forgotten by next fall’s elections except by the 1.3 million people who were likely to vote Democratic in any case.

— Bud Norman

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