Happy holidays to the nation's estimated 1.3 million long-term unemployed who will enter 2014 with no jobs and no unemployment compensation. This is the result of Congress' failure to extend the extended federal unemployment benefits program last week, and the American economy will suffer along with the unemployed and their families.
The program was begun under Republican President George W. Bush to help Americans deal with a sluggish economy and poor job market, and the average monthly stipend of $1,116 is hardly a budget buster. House Speaker John Boehner, leading the Republican opposition to the extension, said he preferred "other efforts to get our economy moving again," but one way to get the economy moving is to assure that Americans out of work through no fault of their own have money to spend. The end of this program will cut consumer spending, putting a further crimp in the economy.
Economics aside, the failure to extend the program is simply cruel, and the obstructing political party has consistently opposed jobs programs made by President Obama that could have reduced the number of unemployed significantly. "It defies economic sense, precedent and our values," assessed Gene Sperling, the director of the White House's National Economic Council, of the congressional refusal to help the unemployed.
This has already been a bleak holiday season for the poor with the expiration of the increased food stamp benefits included in President Obama's 2009 economic stimulus package, with the usual suspects responsible for the refusal to extend them. A proposal currently before Congress that would protect the government subsidies for the wealthy industrial farms so dear to Republicans would also reduce food stamp benefits for an estimated 800,000 poor households, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The extended unemployment and food stamp programs will likely go before Congress again next month, when the 2014 election season kicks off. Doing right by the poor, the unemployed, and the economy constitutes a good platform.