Next week, probably not long after the replacement for the late Senator Robert Byrd is sworn in, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is likely to hold a critical vote on whether to extend federal unemployment benefits. This issue has become a fairly hot button topic in the last few weeks, especially as the economic news continues to be fairly negative, making it unlikely that job creation will accelerate much in the coming months.
With the support of a few Republicans, it is likely that Senator Reid has the 60 votes he needs to get the bill passed, which will extend unemployment benefits until November. From the Democratic point of view, this is not just about helping the unemployed, but injecting federal money into the economy in order to serve as additional stimulus. The total cost of the bill will be $33 billion.
The Republicans have put up a fight on this, which is only to be expected. But they have taken a stand not in total opposition to the extension of unemployment benefits in and of itself, but on the grounds that any extension should be paid for either by dipping into the still-unused cash from last year's stimulus package (which still amounts to something like $300 billion) or by cutting some other spending elsewhere. In other words, they're okay with extending unemployment benefits, so long as it is done in such a way as to not increase the deficit.
This is the right approach, and Senator Reid should have taken them up on their offer (assuming it wasn't a bluff). In an ideal world, of course, helping the unemployed would be the purview of state and local government, or perhaps no government at all, but until we reform our society into the Jeffersonian republic it should be, we have to deal with the world as it is. The economy remains bad, and unemployed people are in trouble. No one denies that. But if the federal government is going to help, it should be done in a way that doesn't increase the deficit.
The unused stimulus money is still just sitting there. The Democrats themselves are saying that extending unemployment benefits would be great way to stimulate the economy. If they truly believe this, then why don't they dip into the unused stimulus funds? It would be a way to help the unemployed and stimulate the economy, while avoiding having to steal money from our grandchildren in the process. And the sight of Republicans and Democrats working together for a change would probably be refreshing for the American people, too.