Handout for Wealthy; No Compassion for Jobless?

It looks as if the U.S. Congress will let the wealthiest Americans keep their Bush tax cut but won’t extend unemployment benefits to struggling families this Christmas. I wish I could say this is entirely the work of heartless Republicans, but the strange truth is that some Democrats are also to blame.

Here’s how the Christian Science Monitor explains the situation:

Jobless benefits will run out for 2 million people during the holiday season unless they are renewed by a Congress that’s focusing more attention on a quarrel over preserving tax cuts for people making more than $200,000 a year.

It’s looking iffy at best whether Congress will renew jobless benefits averaging $310 per week nationwide that are presently claimed by almost 5 million people who have been out of work for more than six months.

An extension of jobless benefits enacted this summer expires Dec. 1, and on Thursday, a bill to extend them for three months failed in the House. Democrats brought the bill to the floor under fast-track rules that required a two-thirds vote to pass. Republicans opposed the legislation because they were denied a chance to attach spending cuts, so the measure fell despite winning a 258-154 majority.

In Thursday’s vote, 21 Republicans joined with Democrats in favor. Eleven moderate-to-conservative Democrats opposed the bill.

I could think of other adjectives than “moderate-to-conservative” to describe those Democrats who voted against extension of jobless benefits, but I’m sure you can come up with a few of your own.  I have come to expect the Republicans to act like those villains in Victorian melodramas who have no qualms about evicting starving families that can’t pay their mortgage. But I thought Democrats represent the party that cares.

I guess that’s just another rude awakening in a world that has been full of rude awakenings for me lately.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has promised to bring the measure back to the floor after Thanksgiving to try to enact an emergency measure that would extend benefits at least through the holidays. And Senate Democrats hope to include the jobless checks in negotiations over year-end legislation. But GOP Leader Mitch McConnell has the votes to block any benefits extension.

The argument against extending jobless benefits is, of course, the lack of funds to pay for them. The U.S. deficit is alarmingly large and the national debt is staggering. Extending the jobless benefits would cost $12.5 billion for three months.

But when it comes to handing out some $700 billion in tax relief for the rich (over 10 years), these concerns magically disappear.

I suppose it’s only to be expected that a Congress populated by millionaires would be sympathetic to the rich. But I hope against hope that they will find some compassion in their hearts for the hungry children and distraught parents who will face a blue Christmas if their unemployment checks stop coming.