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EDITORIAL: Exploiting the miserable

Harry Reid thinks he has another partisan weapon in hand

- - Thursday, January 16, 2014

Congress leaves town Friday for a week's recess, leaving the emergency extension of unemployment benefits as unfinished business. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for all his huffing and puffing about how important the extension is, leaves for Las Vegas betting that exploiting the misery of the unemployed will pay bigger dividends next November than lending them a helping hand now.

In an email Wednesday for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Mr. Reid urged supporters to sign a petition to "demand that Republicans extend unemployment insurance with no strings attached." The "strings" are the eminently sensible requirements that the $6.5 billion cost of a three-month extension be paid for with cuts elsewhere in a federal budget the size of the Goodyear blimp. To suggest, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi did in September, that "the cupboard is bare" and there are "no more cuts to make," is beyond preposterous. Just this week, the House passed a 1,582-page, $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill (Congress had to pass it to find out what's in it), in which $6.5 billion is little more than a rounding error.

The jobless-benefits measure failed, unnecessarily, in the Senate on Tuesday in two party-line votes that Republicans turned into a debate over Mr. Reid's arrogant control of the chamber, leaving Democrats with what the political journal Politico characterizes as their "first big defeat of 2014."

The week's recess makes Jan. 27 the earliest under the rules that Congress could consider legislation again to provide federal assistance to the unemployed who have exhausted their original 26 weeks of assistance. Those benefits expired Dec. 28.

Democrats naturally blame Republicans. Mrs. Pelosi characterized Republican insistence on paying for the extension by cutting in other places as "cruel, shortsighted and immoral." What's immoral is adding more billions to the federal debt of $17 trillion, and leaving future generations to pay it back.

Embracing Rahm Emanuel's reminder that "you never let a serious crisis go to waste," the Democratic campaign committee included an Internet link in its email to enable supporters to donate campaign cash. The long-term unemployed in President Obama's jobless "recovery" are thus pawns in a "crisis" that could have been easily avoided.

Sen. Tom Coburn's annual "Wastebook," issued in December, outlined "100 examples of wasteful and low-priority spending," nearly $30 billion in prospective cuts that would be more than enough to pay for a full year's extension of federal jobless benefits.

Alternatively, Rep. Charles W. Dent, Pennsylvania Republican, has proposals that he says will create jobs and pay for the added benefits for the unemployed. His plan would authorize construction of the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline, which he says would create 42,000 jobs over the next two years. The Dent legislation would also repeal the Obamacare medical-devices tax, which would save 43,000 jobs in the medical-devices industry. Fancy that: creating and preserving jobs, not just paying people not to work.

He proposes two "offsets" to pay for the $6.5 billion the expanded jobless benefits would cost. One would bar anyone from collecting unemployment and disability benefits at the same time; the other would change the rules on the child tax credit in such a way as to bar illegal aliens from collecting it. This change has been attempted before, and quashed by the Democrats.

Mr. Reid vows that the unemployment-compensation extension will be among the first orders of business when the Senate reconvenes on Jan. 27. Until then — and this won't be much consolation to those who can't find jobs — Mr. Reid thinks he has a winning campaign issue.