- Associated Press - Thursday, January 30, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - South Bend Tribune. Jan. 17, 2014.

Extend jobless aid; talk about funding

If you are among the 19,000 Hoosiers who’ve been jobless more than 26 weeks, it may be impossible to appreciate the ideological battle over the long-term extension of unemployment benefits that was shut down in the Senate last week. All your focus might be on keeping your cellphone connected and gasoline in the car to hunt for work.

It’s a shame the casualties of this first big fight of the 2014 election over domestic priorities are the unemployed.

What started out as a disagreement over spending turned into a debate over rights of the minority party, with each side blaming the other.

After the extension of aid for some 1.3 million long-term unemployed expired on Dec. 28, Democrats took the stand that renewing the benefits was an emergency; budgeting the expense was not. Republicans countered that the urgency had waned. They said renewing the aid should be paid for; deficit spending has spiraled for too long.

There is merit in both camps. Unemployment is still an emergency in the nation. One new job is available today for every three people who need work. Indiana’s average jobless rate is 7.3 percent. The national rate is 7 percent. The deficit, though, is so threatening to the nation’s long-term vitality that reducing it ought to be a part of any spending equation. Reconciling these two positions just doesn’t seem that difficult - at least to those of us outside of Congress.

Indiana Republican Sen. Dan Coats, we were glad to note, was one of six GOP members who voted along with 52 Democrats on Jan. 7 to overcome a key procedural hurdle to allow debate on unemployment compensation to proceed.

Optimism that a deal might be struck, however, was short-lived.

Coats was among those who proposed paying the costs through such means as prohibiting simultaneous collection of Social Security Disability Insurance and unemployment insurance; addressing abuse of the federal child tax credit; delaying the Affordable Care Act mandates; and reforming unemployment insurance programs to require those receiving benefits to demonstrate that they are making a sustained job search.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, called the Republicans’ effort a thinly veiled filibuster. For their part, Republicans complained Reid shut them out of decision-making. Good points, again, on both sides.

But Republicans really can’t claim this umpteenth attempt at scuttling the Affordable Care Act as a sincere attempt at compromise. And Democrats must honestly come to grips with the reality that our downsized nation can’t afford the government it has.

Many experts say long-term unemployment assistance is necessary both for the good of those receiving it and to sustain the country’s recovery from recession. Congress should renew the benefits and agree on how to budget the cost.

The $1.1 trillion spending bill Congress hammered out last week is reason to hope a deal on unemployment can be made soon. Both parties surely remember that the unemployed will vote this fall, too.


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