Politicians deaf to zero-income reality looming ahead
Out of touch is as popular in Washington these days as Cyber Monday.
Tone-deaf political banter is so common that examples of actual empathy strike the reader as oddly discordant. Or at the very least, empathy from politicians comes across as calculating and insincere.
So, which is Rand Paul, tone deaf, calculating or empathic? Which one is Nancy Pelosi? Who can really know? But for more than one million unemployed Americans the question matters more than just about anything else this holiday season. Both political leaders made statements about the current battle on Capitol Hill over the extension of long-term unemployment benefits. Together they are as welcome as coal in the stockings.
On Dec. 5, Pelosi said, “We are making a very clear statement that we cannot, cannot support a budget agreement that does not include unemployment insurance…”
Paul begged to differ, calling such an extension a “disservice” to the unemployed. Paul then backed up his assertion that employers were less likely to hire those laid off the longest.
And this makes sense? Those who will have the hardest time finding work are better served by cutting off the thin layer of financial security – most top out around $450 a week – they have left?
For its part, the Obama Administration chimed in, as well. White House officials also released a report that said, “allowing EUC to expire would be harmful to millions of workers and their families, counterproductive to the economic recovery and unprecedented in the context of previous extensions…” Forget a grand bargain or a long-term deal that solidifies everyone’s financial security to some extent, the best the Executive Branch can do is issue a report.
So the political brinksmanship continues, the latest in long line of budget soap opera episodes in Washington – Days of our Lives didn’t enjoy such staying power – the dramatic and final end of extended federal unemployment benefits looms like a tidal wave, following the devastation of the global recession earthquake. As slow signs of recovery continue to boost confidence, those still in dire need could soon see their meager income drop to zero.
Both sides are singing to their choir. Paul, who is often mentioned on a short-list of Republicans interested in the White House for 2016, knows cutting off such programs plays very, very well with his Tea Party loyalists. Likewise, Pelosi’s Lib/Dem Bay Area base views unemployment benefits as a fundamental responsibility of government. How sincere are either? Who knows? But do they get it? Do any of these leaders actually grasp what
it will be like for the million-plus folks who face the complete end to any financial support
All of this plays just fine in the news, but when we speak of tone-deaf consider how this threat plays out on the ground. A family teetering by on their $450 or less a week once had a specific time when benefits would run out. That clock has been ticking incessantly in the back of their minds. Every plan is made, every job pursued based on that ticking clock and the thin safety net that has kept them from completely dropping into financial abyss.
Then suddenly, a Congress that most have tuned out because of its ineptitude targets this safety net as surely as taking a pair of scissors and one by one cutting the cords. The hands of that ticking doomsday clock spin like a fan, while a politician like Paul keeps on snipping the net saying to leave it up is a “disservice.”
If nothing changes in the next 24 hours, three days after Christmas more than one million people will have absolutely no income at all. But they can take comfort in Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who said it would be thr
If politicians weren’t so out of touch, regardless of their sincerity of concern or lack thereof, a simple proposal to gradually reduce long-time unemployment – these funds were emergency funds enacted during the worst financial crisis of a generation — would make sense to the likes of both Paul and Pelosi. Those were extreme measures during an extreme time. Reducing them makes sense, and in fact, some legislation to that effect has already been passed. But this does not play well to either base. Political grandstanding does.
Cutting off those most affected at the very time things may be looking up is radical, unnecessary and hopelessly out of touch. That such a simple compromise solution can’t be pursued instead of saber rattling, and that more than a million people are little more than a political football this holiday season says all that needs to be said about why Congress may well be the least popular institution in America.