Editorial: A deficit reduction plan

President Obama and congressional Democrats passed an extension of unemployment benefits over the objections of Congressional Republicans with a 60-40 vote in the U.S. Senate. On the surface, the battle was about how (not whether) to approve the unemployment benefits: Republicans said they wanted to pay for the expense upfront to avoid adding to the deficit; Democrats said not only would an extension help a struggling national economy, but that it was simply the right thing to do.

But you decide: Which case makes the most sense and which line of political rhetoric rings true to you?

Republicans do have a point. The national debt is $13 trillion — an all-time high — and interest on that debt now represents about 19 percent of the national budget (defense spending is 30 percent and health and human services is slightly higher.) That we have a ballooning deficit is a concern that needs to be addressed — no question about it.

But that is the party’s only point in its opposition.

What is their hope? Did they want Democrats to propose raising taxes on businesses to pay for the added benefits, and would they support that? Heavens no.

Did Republicans want equivalent cuts in other areas of the budget to hold the deficit in check? If so, they certainly haven’t suggested any places to cut — and don’t hold your breath waiting for proposals.

No, their agenda was to oppose the extension (through the threat of a filibuster) because denying Democrats success on this issue helps them in the next election. Why? Two reasons: First, because some within the GOP think it’s a good political tactic to cast Democrats as tax and spend liberals mortgaging our children’s future (and all those other things you’ve heard before); and two because experience shows the public is often so uninformed they simply vote against the party in power if things are not going well, and elect the party in power if things are going well. Under that theory, the worse the country is doing under President Obama and the Democrats in Congress, the better the chances for Republicans in the mid-term elections.

Cynical? Not a bit. It’s right from the Republican playbook and openly discussed by political analysts across the land.

Democrats, on the other hand, are looking at the issue from three perspectives:

• First, unemployment benefits are typically extended during recessions because Americans are out of a job through no fault of their own. They weren’t lazy, or unproductive, or made mistakes. Rather, the economy went sour during President George Bush’s last two years in office and businesses throughout the country cut spending and millions of jobs, which caused banks to fail because of risky loans gone bad — setting the stage for the current recession. Most of these newly unemployed Americans are eager to get back to work as soon as possible.

• Second, the goal of extending unemployment benefits is to keep the economy primed for growth. Money extended to those looking for work is spent immediately for basic needs, thus providing its own economic stimulus in every town across the country.

• Third, if benefits are cut, those workers and their families are often thrown into a cycle of debt. They might have to default on auto and house loans, potentially losing both, and end up going from a relatively stable lifestyle to battling a cycle of poverty. To invite such financial hardship on capable families is not only bad economic policy, it’s unjust.

Democrats also think they have a winning political strategy.

The Achilles heel in the Republican opposition is the blatant hypocrisy. While arguing they want a balanced budget on this one issue, they are calling for an extension of the Bush tax cuts (which greatly favored the wealthiest few) even though it would add tremendously to the debt and is one reason the Bush administration ran up such enormous deficits in the first place. Republicans willingly increase defense spending and hide behind the flag and patriotism any time someone suggests the defense budget might need to be trimmed back, regardless of how much it adds to the debt; ditto police protection and drug prevention. They are also quick with subsidies for big oil and big business and other forms of corporate welfare, dislike regulation and cut spending on it during the eight years of the Bush administration only to watch such folly almost cause the nation’s economy to collapse, yet still resisted efforts to protect the average American investor in the bill just passed on financial reform. Instead, the GOP fought in favor of allowing big banks to continue to pursue risky investments, charge high fees for credit card users and generally fight against reforms that sought to protect middle-and-lower income Americans.

For Republicans to pose as the party of fiscal prudence so soon in the aftermath of their abject failure over the past eight years is astonishing.

But you decide which political argument rings true. Were Republicans really working for the average American by railing against deficit spending, or do their actions suggest they were hoping to obstruct extending the benefits for the sake of politics? Or were Democrats doing the right thing to help those who had lost their job?

Now, regardless of what Rush says, remember that next November.

Angelo S. Lynn

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