July 21, 2010
Another Day, Another Bit of DNC Strategy
As predicted the DNC is rolling out a series of initiatives in the form of e-mail messages to rally the troops. They can be instructive. Monday's missive from the DNC tackles the problem of unemployment and how it is mostly the fault of the Republicans. The byline is Donna Brazile. Here are some observations on this issue.
We're about to see benefits for the jobless expire in a period of high unemployment -- for the first time in 50 years. And Republicans are the only ones to blame.
That would have been 1960. Sam Rayburn (D-TX) was Speaker of the House until his death in 1961 and Lyndon Johnson (D-TX) was the Senate Leader. Democrats held 65 seats in the Senate, 263 in the House. Unemployment was pushing 7%. Was it all the Republican's fault then as well? Even without the possibility of filibuster, most likely yes.
Conservatives in the Senate have been at this for weeks -- abusing the rules to block Democrats from passing legislation. Their filibuster means millions of people lose their unemployment checks, and the entire economy suffers because of it.
The U.S. Senate has a lot of rules. The history of filibusters is extensive and interesting, but does the mere use of a filibuster constitute abuse? Probably the party in control would think so, but would never abandon the filibuster against the near certainty of needing it themselves. So, if the Democrats believe that the filibuster can be abused, why then do they not change it while they have the chance? The answer, of course, is because it is useful.
As it happens, the Democrats avoided the need to change the rules by ramming through the confirmation of the late Sen. Byrd's replacement, Carte Goodwin, giving them the votes needed to break the filibuster on Tuesday. Two Republicans, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, voted to end debate and one Democrat, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, voted to continue the filibuster.
How long did it take to swear-in Scott Brown (R-MA)? 23 days. Long enough to figure out how to pass Health Care legislation without the Senate.
And movement on these benefits can't come a moment too soon. Almost half of our jobless have been out of work for more than 26 weeks -- that's the highest level we've seen for long-term unemployment since the Great Depression. And because of the Republicans, about 33 people lose their benefits every minute. (Emphasis in original)
Isn't math fun? Here's a problem: if half of our jobless have been out of work for more than 26 weeks and unemployment benefits last for 99 weeks, how long must unemployment benefits be extended to ensure re-election for Senate Democrats? Answer: an additional 31 weeks or so.
Here's another problem: if unemployment checks are issued weekly, and 33 people per minute are running out of benefits per minute, how many fewer benefits checks will be issued after one week? Answer: 332,640. But, initial jobless claims have been hanging around 400,000 for some time now, so it would seem that the benefits extension is a tactic to maintain the status quo. This is not new, the Romans knew all about the value of bread and circuses.
Just about every expert will tell you the same thing: Unemployment benefits help the entire economy. In order to collect benefits, you have to demonstrate that you have been looking for work. While you look, they keep bills paid, put fuel in the car, and ensure that families don't suffer when there aren't enough jobs to go around -- things that keep the economy from shrinking even more. And at a time when there are five unemployed workers for every job opening, that's something we just can't afford.
This echoes Speaker Pelosi's recent comments about how unemployment benefits increase employment, and reveals the depth of the current government's commitment to Keynsian principles, which worked so well in ending the Depression. No actual experts are cited in the message. Can anyone cite an example of a time when we could afford for the economy to shrink? Anyway, this is the summer of recovery! The economy is not shrinking. Just ask Joe Biden.
Here's another problem: how much will the economy grow if ten million people are paid to produce nothing for 130 weeks, but to buy gasoline made mostly from foreign petroleum and pay bills? What if most of them have cable TV bills? Answer: if we get that up to the 208 week range we could have people who go an entire presidential election cycle without ever reporting for work, by which time they will need a vacation from all of that driving around. So it's probably a good time to buy hotel stock, since prosperity is just around the corner. In fact, given that unemployment benefits apparently create jobs, maybe we'll achieve full employment by expanding unemployment at some point? Someone should chart that so we know the optimum level of unemployment.
How about this idea: let's build an environment where people are encouraged to find or create productive activities?
One topic that is not mentioned in the message is the House. As we learned from White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs, control of the House may shift with November's elections. That the House is not mentioned, but the Senate is, and given Mr. Gibbs' statement it would seem that the Democrat strategy is to concentrate on salvaging as much as possible in the Senate.
The Republicans will almost certainly retain at least a potential filibuster, and with only a couple of pickups could afford to cede the New England Republicans and still hold a successful filibuster. Outright control is possible for the Republicans, but with a Democrat in the White House and more than 40 Democrat senators, it probably does not matter. In 2012 the White House is up and enough Democrats in the Senate will be up for re-election that a major power shift could occur. If the Republicans take the House this year they can minimize damage. The challenge will be to hold on to and build upon any goodwill that they can accumulate in the meantime.
Tom Bruner is on many e-mail lists, including both DNC and RNC, despite being registered with neither major party.