As The Associated Press reports:
Republicans in the House have blocked a bill that would have extended jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed beyond the holiday season.
The most recent extension of jobless benefits expires Dec. 1. Two million people will lose benefits averaging $310 a week nationwide by the end of the year.
The measure would have extended jobless benefits through the end of February at a cost of adding $12.5 billion to the nation’s debt. Republicans opposing the measure said that the measure should be paid for by cutting unspent money from last year’s economic stimulus bill. [Pols emphasis]
This is one of those prime examples of where Republican talking points from the election are going to get them into trouble with voters in 2012. Voters may want Congress to address the budget deficit and control spending, but we doubt there are a lot of folks out there who are going to be pleased to hear that the GOP spiked unemployment benefits over arguments about the stimulus bill. This isn’t just about the unemployed, remember — people who aren’t getting unemployment checks aren’t spending money locally, which has a definite adverse affect on small businesses. This is a tough spot for Republicans to find themselves — they need to try to prove they are sticking to their principles, but at the cost of really hurting a lot of unemployed people?
“We don’t like the stimulus, so we’re not extending unemployment benefits” is not exactly the kind of populist message that voters are going to be pleased to read about tomorrow. Polls consistently showed that voters were unhappy with both Democrats and Republicans — they were just a little less happy with the incumbents. The lessons we’ve learned from Colorado’s elections, particularly the 2004 turnover in the state legislature, is that voters want their elected officials to do something to make their lives better. Punishing people over a separate principle isn’t an example of that.
Forget, for a moment, the very real economic problems created by not extending unemployment benefits and consider this issue purely from a strategic political perspective. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate is 9.6% — or roughly 14.8 million people without a job. Here’s what that could mean electorally:
Approximate Number of Total Votes Cast in the 2010 General Election: 87.2 million
Number of People Unemployed in the U.S.: 14.8 million
Now, obviously not all of America’s unemployed are registered voters or even likely voters. But 14.8 million is 17% of the total number of voters in 2010.
For those 14.8 million unemployed, let’s assume that each person has at least 4 people close to them who know that they are unemployed (spouse, parents, aunts, uncles, friends, former co-workers, etc.). That’s 59.2 million people who have a direct personal interest in the news that Republicans are refusing to extend unemployment benefits. That number represents 69 percent of the total number of people who voted in 2010.
Again, not all of those people — or perhaps even a majority — will vote in 2012. But 59 million people is a lot of people. All of them with a personal stake in extending unemployment benefits, and many of whom will hear that Republicans blocked extended unemployment benefits (again, during the Holidays) over an ideological discussion about overall spending levels.
Maybe we’re wrong here, but we really don’t see how this is going to be anything but harmful to Republicans in 2012. If nothing else, this certainly isn’t the message they should be sending to voters just two weeks after taking control of the House.