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Your Choice: Extend Unemployment And Tax Breaks Or Neither

photo: BlueJayDay via Flickr

The lesson I have learned from a lifetime around and in politics is this: Sometimes you give away something you don’t want to in order to get something you do want. Seems pretty straight forward, but it is, to my mind, the cause of more ink (or electrons) being spilled and more ulcers and heartburn than anything else. Being a maximalist about everything only works for so long, then the whole system falls apart.

Now our President seems to have over-internalized this idea, and has a really bad habit of going into negotiations by giving something the other side wants right away and then letting them and faint hearted Democrats cram more down his throat as the process goes on. Still there are times when you might not be able to get all you want and that is when compromise is required, no matter how galling.

Which brings us to the situation we now face. There are millions of Americans who are desperately dependent on unemployment benefits which, through Republican nickel and diming on extensions, are in the process of expiring. The follow on economic costs of allowing this will be huge as millions more will not be able to afford heat or food or rent and have nowhere to look to for help. The idea that they can just go get a job is belied by the new jobs report, which showed a pathetic 38,000 jobs created in October and an unemployment number of 9.8% (which always leaves out the under-employed and the discouraged workers).

We hear from the Republicans that we must have certainty in the tax code (why this is I have no freaking idea, as if the amount of taxes you pay is going to keep you from trying to make as much money as you can) but there is also a need for certainty for unemployed workers. They were not the ones who wrecked the economy with Las Vegas style bets and fraud, yet they are the ones paying the price for that recklessness. In the next 30 days, if Congress does not act, there will be 2 million people who will be without benefits of any kind, right at a time when states are cutting benefits of every type to try to balance their budgets.  . . .

Of course any Liberal is going to say that they want the Congress and the President to stand strong on the issue of letting the top level of tax cuts to expire. The 70 billion a year in revenue they will cost is just about what it will cost to extend benefits for another 13 months for the long term unemployed. It seems a no brainer that we spend the money where it will do the most good, unfortunately the Republicans seem bent on proving they have no brains and will hold up anything and everything until the tax rates for the millionaires and billionaires are renewed at the criminally low levels they currently have.

So, this is the question and the choice, would you be willing to swallow a two or three year extension of all the Bush Era tax rates if it meant that we would get 13 months of unemployment benefits, a the debt ceiling extended and the college tuition tax breaks out of the recovery act continued?

This seems to be the shape of the deal that the White House and the Republicans are working on. It would do a lot of good and needed things for the economy, while at the same time giving the Republicans a big ol’ piñata of deficit to whack at for the next two years as well as the next presidential election cycle.

It is a deal with the devil, to be sure, but if it is indeed the only way to keep the most effective stimulus going and to keep millions of Americans from going under and becoming completely desperate, is it worth it? To me the answer is yes.

Putting a floor under the unemployed and boosting the economy for the next 13 months is definitely worth letting the rich continue to keep more than their fair share. At another time and place it would not be, but right now, the cost of letting our fellow citizens suffer and the level of that suffering is a trade I would make, even though it tastes like ashes in my mouth. The cost is going to be big but we know that the Republicans are going to do everything they can to cut the very programs that will help the people it they lost their unemployment benefits anyway. The new austerity they will preach is going to be extremely painful for the most vulnerable of our people, and without the 13 months of benefits it will be far, far worse.

The question becomes what do you think? If this is indeed the path that the White House goes down, will you see it as another capitulation by the president to the Republican minority or will it be a policy you can live with because there is a reciprocation which gets the nation something it needs?

There might be a lot of discussion in the thread about how we got here, but that really does not matter in this one deal facing us. What would you choose if you were in Congress or in the White House? Would you pick taxes as the hill to die on, if the cost was over two million workers being cut off from the meager benefits they get now? That seems likely to be the case. This is a real world as politics gets, having to trade something distasteful for something needful. We will get to find out what the President will do, but I’d like to hear from you, if this was your choice, what choice would you make and why?

The floor is yours.

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Bill Egnor

Bill Egnor

I am a life long Democrat from a political family. Work wise I am a Six Sigma Black Belt (process improvement project manager) and Freelance reporter for