One consequence of elections that shift the congressional majority comes in the form of new committee chairpersons. Some real doozies take over in January.
On the House Education and Labor Committee, currently headed by Rep. George Miller (D-CA), a man who has relentlessly demonstrated his heartfelt concern for working Americans, the replacement will be Rep. John Kline (R-MN), whose leading accomplishment in Congress so far has been to push for putting Ronald Reagan's visage on the $50 bill. That he should find that icon of trickle-down economics so worthy says much of what we need to know. In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, Kline showed exactly what kind of chairperson he will be:
KLINE: That’ll be a tougher lift in the 112th Congress. We’ve had unemployment benefits be extended for almost two years in some states, a little bit less in Minnesota. When you’re running a one and a half trillion dollar deficit per year, that’ll be part of the discussion as to whether that’s a priority for how we’re going to spend money. I would just reiterate what I said earlier, that the obligation for the Congress is to look at the entire budget and recognize that we’re borrowing over forty cents of every dollar that we spend, and say what are the priorities going to be. We can’t fund everything.
Q: But what do you tell those folks hanging on by a thread who really need those benefits?
KLINE: Well, they, heh, the best thing to do for them is to get the economy back on track and get businesses hiring so that they have a job that they can go to. We simply don’t have the money to keep extending unemployment benefits indefinitely. We just don’t have the money.
As Think Progress points out, Kline, like most of the Republican House caucus, backs spending $830 billion in tax cuts for Americans whose taxable income is more than $250,000 a year without worrying about paying for it. But $12.5 billion for a three-month extension of unemployment insurance compensation to Americans who are, on average, collecting $290 a week to keep the landlord from evicting them or the bank from taking their car? That would, in Kline's view, put too large a burden on the Treasury. Like his GOP pals, Kline ignores the fact that every dollar spent on unemployment compensation returns $1.90 in benefits to the economy. In the past year, this compensation has kept 1.6 million Americans who are working from losing their own jobs, kept a million children out poverty and kept half a percentage point from being shaved off the gross domestic product.
If these Republicans (and lame-duck Blue Dogs) really wanted to make sure that renewing the extended UI compensation is paid for without increasing the deficit, they could easily accomplish it. For instance, every nickel of the extension could be recaptured if a Big Oil tax loophole bill, S. 4213, had passed.
But there's another way to pay for it that's far easier. Just let the Bush tax cuts for the upper 2 percent of the population expire. That will cover years worth of extended unemployment compensation if we still need it. But, nooooooo, that would be class warfare.
Since the New Dealers initiated this modest program three-quarters of a century ago, most Republicans haven't been keen on it. So it is no surprise that neither they - nor enough Democrats - have tried to come up with remedies for far greater problems: the crippling effects of off-shoring jobs, job loss through automation, stagnant wages and the tripling of the income gap between the ultra-rich and everybody else over the past three decades. Instead, they have exacerbated these problems.
The ranks of the jobless are still greater than any time since the 1930s. New job creation is still so anemic that it would take 14 years at the current rate to return to pre-recession levels. Forty-two percent of the unemployed have been out of work for six months or more. Somewhere around 10 million out-of-work Americans are no longer eligible for UI compensation, or were never eligible in the first place. All that being so, extending unemployment benefits is clearly just a Band-Aid. But it's an essential measure for millions of Americans. If even this stopgap is being resisted, what American workers face in the next two years of Republican rule in the House will be devastating indeed.