The Real War on Christmas: Canceling Unemployment Insurance For Two Million Americans

President Obama criticized House Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” proposal today because it  lacks an extension for unemployment insurance for the long-term jobless.

If the president fails to win on this issue, two million people will face tough choices. The mortgage or the car payment? Go to the doctor or hope for the best? Cash in the 401(k) or take the kids out of college?

Tick tock. Ten days left. The hostages wait for forces beyond their control to decide their fate.

Yet it is up to all of us. Will we send these two million unfortunates a brochure with their last check? A few words of encouragement and instructions for signing up for the food stamps that Republicans love to hate? Don’t forget to say “Happy New Year.”

Karen Duckett of Laurel, Md., at a December 18 news conference calling for renewal of unemployment insurance. (Chris Maddaloni)

According to the Council of Economic Advisers[1. http://goo.gl/HLBgo], families will spend 22 percent less on food when they lose unemployment insurance. Considering half of the people collecting benefits had zero liquid assets[3. National Bureau of Economic Research http://www.nber.org/papers/w13967.pdf] when they lost their job, they likely will not have enough money left to buy bootstraps to pull themselves up by.

We know this. We’ve been here before.

But we must save money, and everyone has to make hard choices. Most of us would concede that. Hard choices, yes. Stupid choices, no.

According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, every dollar spent on unemployment insurance raises gross domestic product by $1.90[4. http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/11-15-Outlook_Stimulus_Testimony.pdf]. It has the highest potential impact on job creation of the policy options they examined.

We know this. Every time this program is threatened, we trot out these same statistics. We dig up the same research papers. The same economists write the same op-eds. Yet here we are again.

The question is: Why are we allowing this stupid and cruel policy to be used as a bargaining chip?

Most legislation that passes through Congress has a legitimate argument on both sides. Taxes, the war in Afghanistan even (God help us), gun control are all issues where each side has an argument that can be characterized as consistent with the DSM definition of sanity[5. There is no strict definition of “sanity” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders  IV (Text Revised). For our purposes, lets say the people who disagree with me don’t necessarily suffer from a thought disorder.].

This is not such a case. I cannot fathom the motivations of those who will let people who had jobs and want jobs (also well documented[6. http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/ui_report_final.pdf]) fall into destitution. I cannot understand why they would do this when there is literally no benefit to anyone. Nor would I try. Life is short.

Obama’s team must be tired. They must be frustrated. They must be scared that they will lose this game of chicken. I can see why they might give the baby their bottle for the greater good. If they do, I get it but it won’t be good enough.

This is where we come in. As progressives (scratch that, as human beings) we have to draw a line in the sand, put the cards on the table, man up and say “NO.” Two million private tragedies are at stake.

This week you’ve been told to sign petitions, write and phone Congress. You’ve written angry letters to the editor that get longer with each concession.  You’ve show up for protests. ‘Tis the season.

What I would like to do is get a rock and throw it a window.  Letters, phone calls and petitions deny us the satisfaction of shattering glass.

It’s not a productive impulse. I don’t know whose window to break nor can I tell you how breaking it would change anything. As far as I know, Campaign for America’s Future has no reserve fund for bailing frustrated progressives out of county jails.

Email. Phone calls. Petition.  Letters to the editor. Tell your friends, colleagues, church members and sympathetic looking strangers.

If we don’t, there will be two more million people out there we can’t look in the eye.

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