Amidst record long-term unemployment, Democrats are trying to extend unemployment welfare yet again. Will Republicans continue to obediently follow them in accelerating more creeping socialism? Or will last December serve as the Republicans' final act to perpetuate unemployment welfare?
Beware the doomsday TARP coalition of Republicans. Conservatives must be ever vigilant of those Republicans who are willing to vote for an entitlement program one last time with the alleged purpose of precluding an economic apocalypse.
These Republican lawmakers were agog in their support for TARP and the bailouts as a means of preempting the next depression. As such, they lobbied fellow Republicans to support 'one last bailout'. They are the same members who continue to regurgitate Tim Geithner's false premonition that we will default on our credit if we fail to raise the debt ceiling. To that end, they seek to cajole conservatives into raising the debt ceiling 'one last time'. These same visionaries were also the ringleaders of the grand tax deal in December, which extended the Bush tax cuts (except the death tax repeal, of course) in exchange for Obama's economic distorting redistributive projects. Consequently, they agreed to extend the ethanol/green subsidies and unemployment benefits just 'one last time'.
Unfortunately, too many Republicans are credulous enough to believe the vacuous predictions of the left, thereby perpetuating entitlement programs until they become immutable. History has shown that once a government program is enshrined as an entitlement, it becomes impervious to change, much less elimination.
Hence, House Democrats are now pushing for a vote to extend unemployment benefits once again. John Boehner and Eric Cantor have agreed to meet with Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) to discuss HR 589, the "Emergency Unemployment Compensation Expansion Act of 2011". This bill would extend unemployment benefits another 14 weeks even for the "99ers", those who have maxed out on their benefits after 99 weeks of unemployment. Originally, Lee and Scott were denied a meeting with GOP leadership because their bill would add another $16 billion to the deficit. However, since they have offered to fund the $16 billion extension with spending offsets, Boehner and Cantor are willing to discuss the bill. A spokesman for Boehner said that the Speaker is committed to keeping an open door policy for members of both parties.
While it is admirable that Republicans leaders are willing to listen to Democrat proposals, they should draw a line in the sand and categorically oppose this bill, irrespective of supposed spending offsets. People who are receiving unemployment benefits for almost two years are no longer benefiting from anything commensurate to what they originally paid into the program. Accordingly, why not extend unemployment benefits to the millions of young college graduates who cannot enter the workforce due to lack of employment opportunities?
Although Congress has previously extended benefits beyond the traditional 26 weeks during a recession, this time they are clearly attempting to establish unemployment as a permanent entitlement program. The 73 week extension of unemployment benefits helped balloon the cost of unemployment compensation to around $160 billion in 2010 (see OMB budget p.79). The cost of the extended benefits topped $100 billion; the entire sum of the GOP's pledged budget cuts. To put that in perspective, net interest outlays on the debt totaled $197 billion for the same year. It has become a new mandatory unfunded liability that resembles more of a European style welfare plan than the insurance plan that originally characterized the program.
The debate should no longer revolve around the actual budget cost of extending unemployment benefits. Republicans should oppose any future extension on the grounds that it would create a permanent entitlement and would perpetuate unemployment. There are so many people approaching the 99 week status, as much as four million according to the President's Council of Economic Advisers, that the Labor Department is able to lower the unemployment rate by simply removing them from the workforce altogether!
Republicans constantly say that they cannot find enough spending cuts to balance the budget without touching mandatory spending. Precluding the consummation of super long-term unemployment benefits as a permanent entitlement would be a good start. Besides, if there really are $16 billion in extra expenditures, magically discovered by Democrats, they should be eliminated in a stand alone provision even without extending unemployment benefits.
Boehner and Cantor should use this meeting to promote a distinction of bold colors- not pale pastels- between the parties. Populist liberal ideas such as price and wage controls and gratuitous unemployment benefits are the wedge issues that separate the men from the boys among Republicans. It is relatively easy to be a Republican who supports tax cuts and opposes frivolous pork projects like the infamous "bridge to nowhere". It takes an intrepid conservative to oppose new welfare programs, especially those packaged as compassionate benefits for disadvantaged workers.
This is a quintessential opportunity for Republicans to distinguish themselves by showing how such market-distorting programs are inimical to the very people whom they were established to protect. It is a teachable moment in which conservatives can show how perennial unemployment payments are a surreptitious means of exacerbating record unemployment and perpetuating government dependency. Instead of promoting faux 'compassionate conservatism', Republican leadership should articulate unvarnished conservatism- the type that is inherently compassionate and would not perpetuate unemployment.
A true conservative employment benefit would take a radically new form; across the board personal and corporate income tax reductions, an abrogation of thousands of odious regulations in the federal register, welfare reform, a comprehensive energy production program, and a cessation of job killing, market-distorting subsidies. Such a program would create new jobs, elevate personal income, and lower the cost of living for consumers. It would exude true compassion. It would embody true conservatism.
A spokesman for Eric Cantor was on the right track when he told the Huffington Post, "The point [of the meeting] was basically that the Leader believes that the best unemployment program in America is a job, so rather than only talking about extending benefits, we should be having a broader conversation about growing the economy, spurring investment, and allowing businesses to hire." However, he should make it clear that spurring investment is the only option because unemployment payments are counterintuitive to job growth.
If Republicans opt for pale pastels by acquiescing to the extension, albeit with spending offsets, they will lose the political fight. The public will once again perceive that Republicans ultimately agree with the premises of the progressives, albeit less enthusiastically. Consequently, they will side with the more enthusiastic and professional supporters of government dependency.
Call your republican House member and tell him/her to oppose the establishment of a permanent unemployment entitlement. After all, there is no such thing as 'one last vote' to renew a redistribution program. Just ask the Europeans!
Cross-posted to Red Meat Conservative