Pause a moment to consider the plight of the long-term unemployed, our fellow citizens who for one reason or another have encountered failure after failure in their attempts to find a job, any job.
Some smug Americans offer flaccid advice to these unfortunate people: Get a job, they say, as if all it takes is a bit of determination.
Those who propose such a simplistic solution have probably never been out of work for any length of time and therefore may have never experienced the deep and humiliating frustration suffered by the genuinely jobless.
Try to imagine how such a person, having applied for job after job only to hear “you’re too old” or “you’re over-qualified” or some other such discouraging words, only to hear our nation’s political leaders dismiss them as lazy or too easily satisfied with accepting federal handouts.
Well, this week there finally was an encouraging development on Capitol Hill as Senate negotiators reached agreement on a plan to extend federal jobless benefits and even make them retroactive so that the two million Americans whose federal aid was cut off months ago would be appropriately reimbursed.
And here’s the best part: The senators who came up with this plan were five Republicans and five Democrats. This was bipartisan politics at its best.
Well, maybe yes, maybe no. Let’s see what happens when the Senate’s bill is taken up in the House of Representatives, that unwieldy and increasingly embarrassing political institution that must make some Americans consider the possible benefits of a single-chamber Congress (a concept that seems to work reasonably well in Nebraska’s unicameral state legislature).
House Speaker John A. Boehner, perhaps ominously, offered no immediate comment on the prospects of the Senate’s initiative when it reaches the House.
Maybe he didn’t need to, because in the past Boehner has always opposed proposals such as extending unemployment benefits because his argument has always been that any additional costs must be offset by spending cuts of equal magnitude. On this bill, there is indeed a plan to do just that, so perhaps Boehner will come around, provided his other political calculations favor the bill.
The renewed benefits would cost approximately $10 billion — no small sum — but that would be offset by extending fees on goods coming through U.S. Customs and a modification in the way corporations contribute to pensions, the senators explained.
Some of Boehner’s Republican colleagues in the Senate set the tone that could prevail in the House if only the diehard partisans, who so often appear more determined to undermine their political rivals and advance their own re-election chances than to enact fair and decent legislation, would finally acknowledge the genuine needs of the nation’s unemployed.
“I’m pleased that we’ve reached an agreement that will get a sufficient number of Republican votes,” Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who headed the Republican support for the measure, stated.
The bill would restart a key aid program for long-term unemployed workers whose jobless benefits went beyond state limits, which are about 26 weeks with some variation for each state.
The proposed legislation would sensibly require more job training for long-term jobless workers if they are to continue receiving insurance benefits.
Also, benefits would end for laid-off workers whose gross income the previous year topped $1 million. Strangely, there are some in that category.
For too long the victims of our nation’s recent economic woes have paid a disproportionate price for reasons that seldom were related to the quality of their work. It’s time for the House to remedy this injustice.