Federal jobless benefits are being held hostage in a fight over government spending. Certainly, Washington needs a serious debate about controlling the deficit. But not at the expense of people struggling to survive in an economy where one in 10 workers is out of a job.
Just one U.S. senator, Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), is blocking an extension of unemployment benefits and COBRA health insurance subsidies, arguing that other stimulus spending should be cut to cover the $10-billion tab. Senate leaders say the impasse is temporary. They should see that it is. And if that means offsetting the cost of the extension with money from the stimulus bill, they should ensure it isn't taken from badly needed, job-creating infrastructure projects.
The 30-day extension of expiring programs was designed to buy time to reach agreement on long-term relief. In addition to the extension of jobless benefits, the stalled legislation would extend Medicare payments, sparing doctors a 21 percent cut. It would reauthorize small-business lending and transportation spending that ended Sunday, throwing 2,000 Department of Transportation employees out of work.
It's standoffs like this that frustrate voters. Republicans may score some points by highlighting Democratic spending, and Democrats may win others by saying a Republican is blocking help for the unemployed. But political points won't pay the bills for the 400,000 people who worry they may have seen their last unemployment checks. hN