Friday, January 17, 2014

Sequester Cuts and Killing Unemployment Benefit Extensions: When GOP Values Make no Sense

by Nomad

This week the Republicans appeared to be sticking to its tried and true conservative principles by blocking a vote on extending unemployment benefits. 
Add to that the impact of sequester cuts to state jobs training programs and you have a campaign issue nightmare. The question is: can any party get elected by hurting its most vulnerable voters? 
Not once but twice?

Two days ago, Republican conservatives used the power of the filibuster to block a Democratic bill to restore unemployment benefits to over a million Americans, hit hard by the recession. According to an announcement of this decision, the lawmakers declared they were standing on conservative principle.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) stated:
"People, if you pay 'em for years and years, they won't look for a job." 
Who is the "'em" and who are the "they"? What happened to "us" and "we"? 
Extending unemployment benefits, he added, creates no jobs. At a cost of $6.4 billion, the cost of the extension could not be justified, according to the Republicans. Shelby told an interviewer,
"That is a huge expenditure. What we need to do is spend that money on retraining these people that are unemployed -- help them for a few months and get them retrained and get them back in the job market. That's the problem."
As we shall see, there is a major problem with that idea. 
Other Republicans cited their conservative principles to support the filibuster. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said:
"I certainly ran because we're mortgaging our children's future. We're bankrupting this nation."
It's not hard to imagine the possible fallout from this decision come election time. With more than.1.3 million people Americans left without any kind of safety net nationwide, it could make a difference who controls the houses of Congress.

*   *   *
As The Atlantic reported last year, right now, 3.3 percent of the labor force has been unemployed for at least 27 weeks. As bad as that sounds it's an improvement on  2010 when the number was 4.3 percent. (Even those numbers can be misleading, since many long-term unemployed drop off the charts when they lose their benefits.) 
Blaming the unemployed for asking for assistance during a crisis is not a wise political move nor a compassion act.

Long Term Unemployed
Particularly since, as The Nation noted,   the states of the Republicans that blocked the bill have widespread long-term unemployment problems:
In eight Southern states—Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky—the long-term jobless rate is quite high compared to much of the rest of the country. Of the sixteen senators representing those states, fourteen are Republicans (with one Democrat in both North Carolina and Florida.)
That means not only higher numbers of constituents being hurt by the benefit lapse, but a bigger hit to the state economy—Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee estimate $400 million in economic activity was lost in the first week without benefits, and Harvard economist Lawrence Katz puts that number at $1 billion. That damage is naturally concentrated more heavily in states where more people are missing benefit checks.
In Shelby's home state, long-term unemployment is, indeed, a major problem. The number of long term unemployed in Alabama peaked in 2010 and began to decline somewhat. However, in the first nine months of 2013, the numbers began to rise again.
But 2013 looks different. Through nine months, nearly 67,000 Alabamians have been out of work for at least half a year -- up 61 percent from 2012, with three months yet to go in the year.
So according to Shelby, the government should be investing more in jobs training rather than handing them money. Perhaps that's true in the long term, but in the short term, the decision to cut unemployment benefits could be a monumental political blunder. There are people needing help now. 
Furthermore,  Senators may find that two conservative  principles, pushed to extremes by the Tea Party, are in direct conflict. 

Demonstrators UNemployment

Death by a Thousand Cuts
In last year's sequester showdown, the Republicans, after initially blaming the President, decided to spin things and hailed it as a victory for conservative principles.  
“You know, you can knock sequestration or not knock it, but it’s worked in the sense that hit has forced reduction in spending. And I’ve been here 11 years and this is the first time I’ve seen it in this manner, in the sense that it is something that’s actually working.”
Mr. Boozman might want to go back again and see how his glorious cuts are working on a state level. Because of the automatic cuts, it was expected that Arkansas job training programs would be losing $3.9 million in 2013 and will serve 10,000 fewer people. If these cuts remain in place until 2021, Arkansas would lose $52.2 million in funding for workforce development programs and 135,000 fewer people will have access to critical education and training services. 
There are 96,000 unemployed Arkansas workers. Despite an unemployment rate of 7.1 percent, Arkansas employers say everyday they cannot find workers with the right skills. Yet, we are facing the steepest decline in investments in the skills of Arkansas’s workforce in recent history. Arkansas’ workers and businesses simply can’t afford these cuts.
So, as far as the people of Arkansas are concerned, Republican principles mean cutting job training programs under the name of fiscal prudence, while cutting the safety net for the unemployed. The cutting of unemployment benefits will directly impact nearly 9,000 people in Arkansas.
The same problem holds true in Senator Shelby's home state. According to the same sources, Alabama's workforce was also hit hard by the sequester cuts. 
By the most conservative estimate, Alabama job training programs will lose $6.8 million in 2013 and will serve 16,000 fewer people. If these cuts remain in place until 2021, Alabama would lose nearly $93 million in funding for workforce development programs and 216,000 fewer people will have access to critical education and training services.
In October 2013, Republican House member from Ohio, Rep. Jim Jordan was quite gleeful about the effects of the automatic cuts. He told Fox News the sequestration “has been one of the good things that has happened.”

In November, Senator Chuck Grassley from Iowa told his colleagues he thinks that “sequestration is working.” In Iowa, where unemployment is lower than the national average, even there, the cuts will reduce the effectiveness of jobs training programs. Nine thousand fewer citizens in Iowa will no longer have access to jobs training because of those glorious cuts.

Principles and Realism
It's quite possible that the conflict between the budget cuts and the blocking of unemployment benefits will be resolved in typical Washington fashion. In an historic bi-partisanship agreement this week, the Congress came together to iron out a $1.1 trillion government-wide spending bill Thursday, easing the harshest effects of last year's automatic budget cuts. 
So much for Republican principles. 

The Tea Party minority might have been spitting mad at what it saw as a rejection of their true conservative principles but remained strangely quiet about the trillion dollar deal. (Ted Cruz tried to throw a monkey wrench into the gears by making one more attempt to defund Affordable Healthcare.)
As a matter of fact, one older Republican member of Congress used the compromise as handy means to castigate the Tea Party. Said House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky.
"The shutdown educated — particularly our younger members who weren't here during our earlier shutdown — about how futile that practice is."
Seasoned Republicans already know something that the Tea Party might be about to learn the hard way. Sticking to principles and a refusal to compromise is all fine and dandy while you are in Washington making speeches on Fox News. 
However, someday, round about election time,  you have to return to your home state and that's when you will have to explain the misery you've caused because you stuck to your principles.