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John Boehner's twisted reason for rejecting jobless benefits

House Majority Speaker John Boehner's twisted logic for rejecting the Senate deal to extend unemployment benefits is straight out of "Catch-22."
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) speaks to reporters after the House GOP Conference meeting on Capitol Hill on Jan. 8, 2014.
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) speaks to reporters after the House GOP Conference meeting on Capitol Hill on Jan. 8, 2014.

Has John Boehner been reading Catch-22?

In that novel, Yossarian, a World War II bombardier, asks an Army doctor how he can get out of flying more bombing missions. The only way, Doc Daneeka explains, is if you can show that you’re crazy. But anyone who asks to be relieved from duty by definition isn’t crazy, because not wanting to fly bombing missions proves that you’re sane. “That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” Yossarian says. “It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka replies.

The Democrats want to extend unemployment benefits for a year. Fine, the GOP says, but first you have to let us impose all sorts of cumbersome “reforms.” For example, millionaires should no longer be able to collect unemployment. (About 0.02% did in 2009, so this isn’t much of a problem.)

OK, the Democrats say.

Then the GOP says that state and federal agencies must perform “personalized assessments” to see whether the unemployed person is going about seeking work in the right way.

Whatever, the Democrats say.

Then Republicans say that a year is too long to extend benefits. How about five months?

We’ll take it, the Democrats say. A bargain is struck.

This all happens in the Senate, but House Speaker John Boehner says he’ll support a benefit extension if it’s paid for (accomplished through custom fees and a pension tweak) and if it creates jobs (which the Congressional Budget Office says it will do by raising GDP and employment in 2014). We know Boehner doesn’t oppose the Senate GOP’s plan to tinker with unemployment benefits to make them harder to get, because he’s supported much more intrusive “reforms” in the past -- for instance, requiring all recipients who lack a high school degree to enroll in a GED program and demonstrate “satisfactory progress.”

So we’re done, right?

Nope. Boehner says he won’t support extending unemployment insurance because -- get this -- he’s hearing from state officials that the “reforms” are too difficult and expensive to implement. The changes that Boehner’s own party asked for as a condition of their support have made the bill “simply unworkable.” Indeed, he says, these “reforms” would actually result in more fraud and abuse, not less.

So let’s jettison the “reforms” and pass a clean extension bill, right?

Nope. Because, dammit, unemployment benefits need to be reformed.

And so the nonsense loop recommences, like Lamb Chops’s “Song That Doesn’t End.”