Are unemployment benefits getting an undeserved 'mugging'?

The $34 billion jobs bill that stalled in the Senate last week could help millions of Americans and directly support the economy.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/File
In this file photo made March 9 Damashata Washington looks for work at Work 2 Future, a federally funded job training center, in San Jose, Calif. A jobs bill that would extend unemployment benefits for 20 weeks stalled in the Senate and will be taken up again next week.

Hey, let’s get real: extended unemployment benefits are an effective form of stimulus spending, and although they do add to the short-term deficit, they are not part of the longer-term deficit problem. Nowhere in CBO’s report on the long-term budget outlook will you find different assumptions about unemployment benefits. It’s all about what we do with the Bush tax cuts and how well health reform will work. (More on this soon, I promise.)

This open letter to Senator Scott Brown by the Boston Globe’s Scot Lehigh says it well. Scot even quotes two of the most vocal (and sincere) deficit hawks around:

…take it from David Walker, former US comptroller general and now, as president of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, a leading deficit hawk. “While the current deficits are large, they don’t represent the real threat to the future of the country,’’ he said. “The real threat is the medium-to-longer term structural deficits that will be here after the economy has recovered.’’…

No fiscal falcon with a proper balance of economic and fiscal priorities is going to fault you for supporting that extended aid.

“As a deficit hawk, I wouldn’t worry about extending unemployment benefits,’’ said Bob Bixby, president of the Concord Coalition. “It is not going to add to the long-term structural deficit, and it does address a serious need. I just feel like unemployment benefits wandered onto the wrong street corner at the wrong time, and now they are getting mugged.’’

Let’s face it: those who use their “worry” about our longer-term fiscal outlook as a reason to oppose extended unemployment benefits don’t want to reduce the deficit as much as they want to get rid of unemployment benefits. It is just a convenient excuse to “mug” those benefits and deny many American families that assistance they so badly need.

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