After discovering that professional dancing wasn’t his thing (see Dancing With the Stars, Season 9), Tom Delay has returned to doing what he does best: being horrendously unintelligent.
First, some context: This past week, the Senate had a proposal for unanimous consent for the extension of unemployment insurance, among other federal programs. Unanimous Consent Agreements are quite common in the Senate — it’s how they lay the terms and conditions for debate and discussion, or in this case, when to vote. Sometimes there are hiccups, but generally speaking, with issues of appropriations as important as unemployment insurance, business is conducted smoothly.
Enter Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.).
Senator Bunning objected to the proposal on the grounds that the money used to extend unemployment benefits should not be added to the deficit, but rather should come out of stimulus funds.
I’ll say this: I think Bunning’s concern is valid, but his choice of timing was poor: As a result, some 2,000 federal employees were forced into unpaid furloughs, and unemployment insurance for millions more was in question. Thankfully, Bunning eventually relented, and the programs were renewed.
So here’s where Delay becomes relevant again (well, at least to this article). While being interviewed on CNN’s State of the Union about the whole mess, Delay had this to say about unemployment benefits: “You know, there is an argument to be made that these extensions, the unemployment benefits, keep people from going and finding jobs. In fact there are some studies that have been done that show people stay on unemployment compensation and they don’t look for a job until two or three weeks before they know the benefits are going to run out.” He went on to further suggest that unemployment benefits discourage people from looking for jobs.
Makes sense, right? I mean, who would want to get a job when you can support your family on an average of $293 per week? Yea, that’ll cover the mortgage! Sounds like government sponsored vacation to me! Woo-hoo!
No, but seriously. Tom Delay is an idiot.
First, “studies” don’t (and realistically, couldn’t) show that people deliberately wait until two or three weeks before their benefits run out to look for a job. Some studies have, however, shown that people tend to be unemployed longer when they receive unemployment benefits. Now, that could be because people receiving unemployment insurance are lazy … or it could be because people are willing to hold out for a better paying job that more closely matches their skill set when they know they won’t starve as a consequence. I’m probably not alone in thinking that between going hungry and digging ditches, I’ll dig ditches.
Secondly, here’s a newsflash, Mr. Delay: We’re in a recession. People aren’t unemployed because of the great incentive of unemployment insurance; they’re unemployed because there are no jobs. And those that do have jobs are working fewer hours, taking pay cuts and trying to make ends meets. Then again, maybe I should defer to Delay’s judgment; he is, after all, the authority on the importance of hard, honest work. I’m sure he broke his back to solicit all of those illegal gifts and trips from Jack Abramoff.
Third, the fact that we’re in a recession makes unemployment benefits tantamount to economic recovery. Want to know a foolproof way to stimulate the economy, one that nearly every reputable economist agrees on? Extend unemployment! People who are on unemployment immediately spend (on silly frivolities, like “food” and “electricity”), injecting the cash right back into the system. Maybe Mr. Delay would prefer a tax cut for those receiving no income?
Some of you might be wondering: why go off on Delay? He’s just one guy, who made some dumb offhand comment. I understand that Delay is a disgraced and irrelevant politician, but I focus on his comments because he’s not the only one who believes them. His words are representative of a philosophy that suggests that poor people are poor because they’re lazy. That the unemployed are unemployed because they choose to be. That those who falter necessarily falter of their own accord. It’s a philosophy that justifies ignoring the plight of millions of innocent people.
Look, I believe in individual responsibility as much as the next person, but let’s not pretend that there aren’t structural issues that affect societal problems. Unemployment insurance is way to keep people on their feet as they transition between jobs. It’s a way to keep our economy afloat. It’s not a shameful handout; it’s the product of a responsible society that cares about its citizens. Delay’s comments uselessly stigmatize people who are already down on their luck in an attempt to improperly influence voters into thinking that removing the most important lifeline to the unemployed will somehow benefit them.
Then again, maybe Delay is just bitter. After all, “shameful resignation” won’t qualify you for unemployment.
David Murdter is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Murphy’s Lawyer appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.