Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, announced Thursday that he will introduce a 3-month extension to long-term federal unemployment insurance with a Republican co-sponsor and hopes for a procedural vote as soon as Jan. 6. [...] Mr. Reed said he plans to introduce the extension with Sen. Dean Heller, Nevada Republican. The short-term extension is not paid for in other parts of the budget because it's considered an economic emergency, said Rep. Sander Levin, Michigan Democrat. The cost would just be tacked on to the deficit, something Republicans have refused to do in the past.
Federal emergency unemployment benefits expire tomorrow for 1.3 million jobless Americans. By the summer, another 1.9 million will be affected by the lapsed assistance. But congressional efforts to address the problem are still very much underway and a new Senate vote on benefits may be the first order of business when lawmakers return from their holiday break.
On that last part, about Republicans having refused to tack on emergency costs to the deficit "in the past," this comes by way of the Washington Times, an unabashedly conservative newspaper. The reason the claim stands out, however, is that it happens to be wrong.
Congressional Republicans, in the recent past, had no problem tacking on the cost of the war in Iraq to the deficit. They also tacked on the cost of the war in Afghanistan to the deficit. They also tacked on two rounds of massive tax cuts, a Wall Street bailout, Medicare expansion, and the cost of No Child Left Behind to the deficit without giving it much thought.
As Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) once put it, during the Bush/Cheney era, Republicans considered it "standard practice not to pay for things."
But now that it's out-of-work Americans who need a hand, and there's a Democrat in the White House, many of these same GOP lawmakers are outraged by the idea of extending jobless aid through deficit financing. Imagine that.
Regardless, the fact that Reed's proposed three-month extension has a Republican co-sponsor should bolster its bipartisan appeal, and if GOP officials are keeping an eye on the polls, they'll know this is a popular policy with election-year implications.
Tomorrow's deadline will no doubt be scary for families in dire financial straits, but Jan. 6 isn't far away, and Congress will have an opportunity to do the right thing.