Posted on July 13, 2010
Tennessee's two U.S. senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, have presented a valid reason for opposing the proposed extension of jobless benefits for the unemployed in its present form. They say they want to make sure the estimated $33 billion cost comes from the current budget rather than being borrowed and running up the deficit.
Tennesseans do have a stake in the matter — both as taxpayers and as recipients of unemployment benefits. It's estimated that four in 10 Tennessee residents who received some level of unemployment in early June now have lost those payments. Many had been getting checks from a previous extension of unemployment from the 26 weeks provided by most states up to 73 weeks.
Last month, the U.S. House passed a bill to reauthorize extensions into this fall, but Republican senators have blocked the legislation.
Tennessee's two senators contend that money that already had been approved for the stimulus — but as yet unspent — could be used.
"This situation is almost beyond belief," Corker told The Tennessean. "We could solve this in five minutes. Let's take unexpended stimulus money to pay for it, and we would be done with it."
For his part, Alexander told the newspaper: "My heart goes out to people who have tried time and again to find a job and got turned away. What I try to say to them is that I'm willing to cut other provisions in the budget to extend unemployment compensation."
He also said that as a senator, he has to consider whether the nation needs to pay for the benefits now or put the burden on future generations by adding more to the national debt.
The United States already has saddled generations yet unborn with a $13.1 trillion debt. Take a look at the online debt clock — www.usdebtclock.org — to see the numbers turn from bad to worse right before your eyes.
As for the unemployment benefits themselves, members of Congress should stop the gamesmanship. Democrats may want to make the Republicans look like the bad guys in opposing the House version of the bill, but they are playing with people's lives. It's time for compromise using the stimulus money and making necessary cuts elsewhere in the current budget if needed so that the cost associated with extending jobless benefits stays in the here and now.