Senate Republicans on June 24 once again blocked legislation to reinstate long-term unemployment benefits for people who have exhausted their aid, prolonging a stalemate that has left more than a million people without federal help.
Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said the bill would have added to the national debt if it had passed.
The unemployment extension would add about $30 billion to the national debt. So were the Republicans right? Was this a good reason to kill the bill? Individual sob stories aside, is a good thing or a bad thing to cut off aid to more than a million workers when unemployment rates are still in double digits?
Most economists dispute the wisdom of tightening the government’s belt during an economic downturn. President Franklin Roosevelt and Congress turned the Great Depression of the 1930s into a double-dip depression when they decided to tackle their deficit problem before the economy had sufficiently recovered. The result: the Great Depression lasted another four years.
Economists aren’t the only ones who question the wisdom of such belt-tightening measures when the private sector is so anemic. In such times, the government is the only institution capable of keeping the national economy humming, or at least sputtering, until the private sector gets its footing. And a large majority of Americans expect the government to do just that, according to most recent polls.
Oh sure, there’s a lot of media hype about people being up-in-arms over budget deficits. You can’t turn on the TV without someone screaming about the deficit.
But most recent polls show far more public concern over unemployment than deficit spending or the federal debt, as documented by the group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). Recent surveys from CBS/New York Times and NBC/Wall Street Journal asked voters to rank problems facing the country. Unemployment was more important by a spread of 49 percent to 5 percent in the CBS/NYT poll, 35 percent to 20 percent in the NBC/WSJ survey, and 47 percent to 15 percent from a recent Fox poll.
One recent Gallup survey (6/17/10), for example, found that 60 percent of the public approved of “additional government spending to create jobs and stimulate the economy.” One of the few polls to ask people to choose between jobs and the deficit directly (CBS/NYT, 4/5-12/10) found 50 percent agreeing that “the federal government should spend money to create jobs, even if it means increasing the budget deficit,” with 42 percent choosing deficit-reduction over job-creating stimulus.