Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The eternal extension of unemployment benefits

One of my all-time favorite movies is the Mel Brooks classic Blazing Saddles, starring Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, Mel himself, and many other comedy greats. In the movie, Brooks plays William J. LePetomane, an idiotic governor of an unnamed state in the Old West and Korman plays Hedley Lamarr, the state's evil Attorney General. In the movie, during a meeting in the Governor's office with Lamarr and other officials, Lamarr tells LePetomane to sign a provision to allow the state to snatch two hundred thousand acres of Indian land. LePetomane responds by asking what the land will cost. The full exchange:
Hedley Lamarr: If you will just sign this, Governor. Right here.
Governor LePetomane: Yes, yes. What the hell is it?
Hedley Lamarr: Well, under the provisions of this bill, we would snatch two hundred thousand acres of Indian land, which we have deemed unsuitable for their use at this time. They're such children.
Governor LePetomane: Two hundred thousand acres? Two hundred thousand acres? What'll it cost, man, what'll it cost?
Hedley Lamarr: A box of these [a box of paddleballs].
Governor LePetomane: Are you crazy? They'll never go for it. And then again they might. Those little red devils, they love toys!
Here's a clip of most of the scene (plus a little more):


And for those who must know, the Governor's secretary, Miss Stein, was played by Robyn Hilton.

But I digress. The reason I bring up this particular scene is to note two things. First, the fact that even though LePetomane is something of a fool, even he knows enough to ask what something--in this case a government bill--costs, before agreeing to sign off on it. And second, the justification Lamarr offers for taking the land from the Indians: it's "unsuitable" for them and, more importantly, "they're such children."

Yesterday, a bill to extend unemployment benefits passed the Senate and now goes to the House, where its future is still unknown. This extension, if it ultimately passes, would be yet another one in a series of extensions dating back to 2008, when President Bush signed the Unemployment Extension Act of 2008 into law. As many pundits on the Left are overly fond of pointing out, Republicans supported this measure, by and large. And of course Bush was a Republican President. These same pundits tend to forget that prior to signing the bill, Bush threatened to veto a similar one. And those Republicans who voted for it felt--like Bush--that they were voting for a short-term extension, based on expectations that the economy was going to get worse.

And the economy did get worse.

So under President Obama, benefits were extended again in 2009. And again in 2010. And then in early 2012. This last extension expired at the end of 2013, which is why there is such a rush to get another extension through Congress. But here are two questions: what'll it cost and do we actually need it?

As to the second question, there is no doubt that some people can fairly say they "need" the extension, since they are unemployed. But that's always the case, isn't it? There are always some unemployed people, so there will always be some number who can fairly claim to need an extension. At what point, then, would an extension not be justified? Never, it would seem. Because if one looks back at the debates surrounding each extension, from 2009 to the current one before Congress, there is no actual point at which those championing these extensions allow that they won't be necessary.

In 2009, the mantra from the Administration and the Left was "the economy is getting worse." In 2010, it was--in service to Democratic mid-term election needs--"our actions have saved the economy, but it hasn't fully turned around yet." And in 2012, it was "we're seeing signs that the economy is in a recovery," again in service to election needs, this time the President's. Look at this paper from the White House (from late 2011) on the need for benefit extensions. It allows--indeed, it argues--that such extensions can and should exceed economic downturns by years. Of course, the evidence in this regard is hardly convincing. Really it's not even evidence, just simple empty-headed justification.

But the point is, there is no limit for these kinds of extensions. And at the same time the Administration and Democrats have been pushing for and pushing through these extensions, they have also lowered payroll taxes, the source of funding for unemployment insurance. Which brings us right back to the first question: what'll it cost?

Estimates vary in this regard, but let's go with $25 billion as the cost of extending federal unemployment benefits by another year. Predictably, much of the mainstream media is claiming the cost is around $6.4 billion, then failing to note that this figure is for the first three months, only. Regardless, $25 billion is not chump change. And when the funding mechanism for these outlays has been undermined, the money has to come from somewhere. Doesn't it?

Now let's take both points together: unlimited extensions of federal unemployment benefits that cost the feds a minimum of $25 billion per year (the number will go up, we all know that). And the consequences: more debt and the continued creation of a permanently unemployed underclass.

But hey, we the citizens are just children. We don't know how to run our own lives and it's only fair that some of us surrender to the judgment of our betters in Washington, D.C.

Cheers, all.

1 comment:

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