Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Unemployment Benefits: The Saga Continues

It's fashionable to blame Republicans for the fact that the Senate has let unemployment benefits lapse for some 2.1 million Americans since last month, and you'd be well within your rights to do so. After all, the GOP has offered plenty of fodder.

-Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah insinuated that the unemployed are drug addicts.

-Nevada Senate hopeful Sharron Angle has said the jobs are out there, but the unemployed are just spoiled by their benefits.

-Kentucky Senate hopeful Rand Paul said the unemployed should just suck it up and take a lower-paying job instead of relying on unemployment benefits.

-Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, the minority whip, has also expressed on several occasions an opinion against unemployment benefits, citing everything from the deficit to the benefits inviting the unemployed to stop looking for work. Oddly, he doesn't think the deficit is a problem when it comes to the Bush tax cuts.

Like I said, plenty of fodder.

But there's another enemy when it comes to trying to extend an olive branch to the unemployed since jobs are still so hard to find, and he's right here in the Democrat's back yard. Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska has been joining the Republicans in their attempts to filibuster unemployment benefits -- and effort aided by the vacant seat of the late Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.).

Yes, that's the same Sen. Nelson who nearly held health care reform hostage. Yes, that's the same Sen. Nelson who voted with Republicans against the stimulus package.

Nelson has not only parroted the right-wing talking point that the deficit is more important than helping the unemployed or spurring economic growth (which many economists argue unemployment benefits would do), he's also defending his choice to help filibuster extending those benefits by explaining that Nebraska isn't as bad off as the rest of the country.

While the national unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent, Nebraska's is only 4.9 percent.

While it's true that Sen. Nelson should keep the state which he represents in mind when deciding how he's going to vote on legislation, he must also keep in mind matters of national significance; after all, Sen. Nelson holds a national office. His state does not exist in a vacuum, and his state's relative standing in unemployment is not a reason for the Senator to oppose something that would help the rest of the country.

Frankly, if Sen. Nelson is so concerned with Nebraska's fate that he's willing to forsake the rest of the country (remember the Cornhusker Kickback?), then maybe he should give up his Senate seat and run for a state office.

I'm under no illusions when it comes to Nebraska; I realize that's a conservative state, and there's no real chance of a truly liberal Democrat being elected to the Senate from that state. However, given Sen. Nelson's actions over the past year and a half, maybe it would be better for everyone if he just ended the charade.

Sen. Nelson, switch to the Republican Party. I think you'll find yourself more at home there.

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