The Workers' Friends Democrats And Republicans Both Deserve Blame For The Delay In Extending Jobless Benefits

Posted: November 15, 1991

After months of gridlock and game-playing, the nation's political leaders are finally providing modest help to the unemployed. Under this plan, about three million people will get extended jobless benefits during the next year. In short, official Washington has belatedly tuned in to the human side of this sickly economy: the 300,000 people per month who exhaust their benefits without landing a job.

Thus even as the politicians keep fighting over who gets the credit, the key is that idled workers are about to get help. Based on recent levels of unemployment, Pennsylvanians will get an additional 13 weeks, while people in New Jersey get 20 weeks. (In states with relatively high unemployment, extended benefits will go not only to people who exhaust their 26 weeks of benefits in the future, but also to unemployed people whose benefits lapsed earlier this year - anytime after March 1.)

Again, the bottom line is that this help is on its way. But as long as Democrats and Republicans are scapegoating each other for the unconscionable delay, let's take a look at each party's story line.

The Democrats say the delay was all the fault of President Bush and other stone-hearted Republicans. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, for example, griped Wednesday that Mr. Bush for months blocked extended benefits ''for no valid reason." It would be more accurate to say that the President's obstructionism was based on one invalid reason (his notion that extended benefits weren't needed) and one valid reason (his insistence on new revenue to offset the cost of new benefits in order to avoid increasing the deficit). Now the Democratic-controlled Congress has finally agreed on several relatively painless ways to offset the $5.2 billion cost of extended benefits - something that should have happened months ago.

But the spin from Mr. Bush is just as bogus. He's casting himself as a relentless crusader for extended benefits. On the contrary, until very late in the game, the President was citing a statistical uptick in the economy and thus discounting the need for extended benefits.

In short, Republicans and Democrats alike deserve blame and disdain for keeping these benefits in limbo for months while people were hurting.

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