Conservative lawmakers are absolutely right to insist that any extension to long-term unemployment compensation benefits be offset by federal budget cuts elsewhere.
But their refusal to consider a short-term fix puts the well-being of more than a million jobless Americans in jeopardy, and also gives Democrats a campaign issue.
A deal to allow the three-month extension outlined in a Senate plan should be approved sooner rather than later.
Statistics show Florida has more at stake than other states. The average unemployed Floridian has been jobless for 44 weeks, an average longer than any other state and a full 10 weeks longer than the national average.
As the Tribune’s William March reported, about 73,000 Floridians lost their unemployment compensation benefits Dec. 28 with the expiration of a federal program that extended them for 14 weeks or more. Without another extension, an estimated 260,000 Floridians will lose that financial safety net by the end of the year.
Arguments that the long-term unemployed are waiting for the benefits to expire before looking for work are questionable. The majority of the long-term jobless are eager to join the workforce but unable to find a job that can pay the bills.
The plan to extend the benefits program for three months — at a cost of $6.5 billion — narrowly passed the Senate on a preliminary vote this week, with six Republican senators joining Democrats in voting for the measure.
That’s a substantial amount of money, and House Speaker John Boehner is demanding offsetting budget cuts be included in any extension deal. Even some Democrats agree that the money should be offset, but say there will be time during upcoming budget talks to make the compensatory cuts. The White House has signaled it will consider budget cuts to offset the cost of a year-long extension of the program.
But first, the 1.3 million long-term unemployed Americans need the immediate help that the Senate plan would provide. House Republicans should get assurances from the White House that cuts will actually be made, then work to get relief to those Americans who are suffering because of an economic meltdown that was no fault of their own.
Arguments on the left that no offsetting cuts are needed because the nation’s deficit is declining are ridiculous. The country has a spending problem, and the debt under Obama is expected to double.
Sadly, this debate obscures the nation’s real deficit problem: the looming effects of an aging population on Social Security and Medicare. Lawmakers should get serious about fixing that problem, and stop making these ideological stands on the backs of the unemployed and other innocent victims.