"Too often," said Obama, "the Republican leadership in the United States Senate chooses to filibuster our recovery and obstruct our progress." Although the Democrats hold solid majorities in both houses of Congress, which has allowed them to pass monumental health care legislation and enact financial reform, it is the Republicans, evidently, who are to blame for the lack of economic recovery.
Senate Republicans have thrice blocked initiatives from the governing party to extend unemployment benefits because they fear such expenditure will add significantly to an already mounting national debt. "Some Republican leaders actually treat this unemployment insurance as if it's a form of welfare," the president complained---though it is. "They say it discourages folks from looking for work," which it does, although the president has yet to meet an American "who would rather have an unemployment check than a meaningful job that lets you provide for your family." If only all Americans lived up to that, there'd be no need for welfare in the first place.
Unemployment benefits are a welfare provision and they do discourage people from finding work. Although they are a permanent facet of America's welfare state, Obama insists that they amount to an "emergency expenditure." He is angered by Republicans who "suddenly" want to change that.
They say we shouldn't provide unemployment insurance because it costs money. So after years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, including a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, they've finally decided to make their stand on the backs of the unemployed. They've got no problem spending money on tax breaks for folks at the top who don't need them and didn't even ask for them; but they object to helping folks laid off in this recession who really do need help.
It's rather depressing to have the President of the United States express so many falsehoods in a single paragraph. For one thing, Republicans, unfortunately, don't oppose unemployment benefits on principle. As Obama said, they have championed them for years. Some Republicans legislators are worried though that extending such insurances now is fiscally irresponsible and they're right. Democrats have failed to introduce a budget this year and are financing government programs on emergency provisions, or "redeeming resolutions." Meanwhile, the deficit is expected to reaching $1 trillion by the end of this year while the total debts amount to more than $13 trillion.
Obama's predecessor was left with a handsome surplus only to plunge in the red fairly rapidly. Yet the simple assertion that Republicans "turned a record surplus into a massive deficit" fails to consider two rather important events: the bursting of the dot-come bubble in early 2000 and the attacks of 9/11. Both cost the American economy dearly while the subsequent war in Afghanistan---which Obama has always defended as righteous---added significantly to President Bush's deficit.
The Bush tax cuts the president refers to may continue to frustrate Democrats but if so, they fail to consider that the rich already bear the grunt of government's costs.
In 2007, the top 1 percent of tax returns paid 40.4 percent of all federal individual income taxes and earned 22.8 percent of adjusted gross income. Both of those figures were up compared to 2004 when the top 1 percent earned 19 percent of adjusted gross income and paid 36.9 percent of federal individual income taxes. In spite of President Bush's tax cuts, wealthy Americans today shoulder more of the income tax burden than they did before them.
Lastly, the notion that the "need" of some---in this case, the unemployed---justifies the taking from others---"the rich"---is flawed and dangerous. Flawed, because it is not a proper function of government to extend charity to those in need. Dangerous, because such help can only come at the expense of others who are effectively denied possession of their income. "Spreading the wealth around," no matter how the president may feel about it, is something Republicans will always oppose---and with them, a majority of Americans.
But "think about what these stalling tactics mean for the millions of Americans who've lost their jobs since the recession began," Obama pleas. "Over the past several weeks, more than two million of them have seen their unemployment insurance expire." Don't they deserve help?
Why, everyone is free to help whomever they like. But no one has a right to do so with other people's money.
Originally published at the Atlantic Sentinel, July 17, 2010.