Last night’s “bipartisan breakthrough” in the Senate offered new hope for those who need unemployment benefits. An agreement was finally in place to extend jobless aid to nearly 2 million Americans; the benefits would be applied retroactively; and the whole thing is paid for.
The White House is thrilled; the public supports the policy; the benefits would give the economy a boost; and with 60 proponents, a Republican filibuster probably can’t stop the bill anymore. Assuming it passes the upper chamber soon, the bill would simply need a majority of the House.
House conservatives moved quickly Thursday to condemn an agreement struck by a bipartisan group of 10 senators to retroactively restore for 5 months emergency unemployment insurance that expired in December. […]“I haven’t seen it, but no,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told TIME. “We need to be focused on policies that create jobs, not focusing on extending unemployment [insurance] forever,” added Jordan, noting that the President has extended unemployment benefits numerous times before.
There may be good arguments from the right against extended unemployment benefits, but Jordan’s position isn’t one of them. Indeed, there’s a real coherence problem here that policymakers should pay attention to.
According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, among others, extended jobless aid would be worth between 200,000 and 300,000 U.S. jobs just this year. If Republican lawmakers want to argue that the economy doesn’t need those jobs, they’re welcome to present their argument. But to say policymakers should focus on job creation, and then knowingly and deliberately reject a policy worth hundreds of thousands of jobs, makes it that much more difficult to take GOP economic arguments seriously.
And as it happens, Jim Jordan’s argument wasn’t even the worst one from the House Republican caucus.
To my ear, this one’s worse.
Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), an influential conservative who, like Jordan, once served as Republican Study Committee chairman, left the opportunity for reconciliation open, but indicated that the issue was already over. “The extended unemployment benefits by the Administration were to be in place until unemployment came down,” said Price. “Unemployment is down.”
This is important. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if House Democrats seized on this because of its larger significance.
Over the last few generations, Congress has never allowed jobless aid to lapse with an unemployment rate this high – indeed, lawmakers would have been afraid to do so, fearing a public backlash. But as Republican politics has moved sharply to the right, standards have changed, and GOP policymakers didn’t blink when deciding to cut off benefits a few days after Christmas.
But take another look at Tom Price’s quote: the unemployment rate “is down” from its crisis highs, so there’s no longer any need to extend benefits for those struggling to find work. In other words, Congress doesn’t need to act – because the unemployment rate has dropped to a level congressional Republicans have deemed acceptable.
Are we to believe those Americans who see a persistent jobs crisis are complaining too much? After all, according to Tom Price, “unemployment is down,” so what’s the problem?
For the record, the jobless rate is currently 6.7%, which is an extraordinary improvement from the height of the Great Recession, but looking back from before the crash, it’s been 20 years since the U.S. unemployment rate was this high.
Price may be satisfied that the rate has dropped to the point that unemployment rates need not be a priority anymore, but I have a hunch most of the American mainstream would disagree.