Media reports surrounding Sen. Jim Bunnings embargo of emergency benefits for out-of-work Americans cast the Kentucky Republican as a singular crank. Watching his actions over the last week I dont doubt he is, but to content ourselves with that reading misses a larger, more important, truth.
At the end of the day (March 2), with the Bunning filibuster over, 19 Republicans remained convinced that he was right for objecting. Nineteen. That means nearly one-half of the full complement of 41 Republicans voted no on what should have been easy and obvious support for workers during such bleak economic times.
It is from this story that broad lessons should be drawn.
Of those opposing the extension, eight come from states with unemployment rates higher than the national average, one had been offered a cabinet post in the Obama administration and a handful are popularly regarded as moderates.
Among them is Sen. Richard Burr, who opposed ending tax subsidies to U.S. corporations shipping jobs oversees, yet whose home state of North Carolina lost 124,200 jobs in 1999 and today maintains an unemployment rate topping 11%. And Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, who at last count voted the interests of the US Chamber of Commerce 100% of the time, despite a 20% reduction in farm income and loss of nearly 11,000 full-time jobs last year. Never mind Sen. John Cornyn, the conservative from Texas who apparently cares little about 276,000 jobs leaving his state in just 12 months time.
President Obama has made bipartisan outreach central to his administration. But standing between the parties is not political difference but moral accounting.
In the United States today more than five unemployed workers are vying for every job opening nationwide and long-term unemployment is at its highest level since the Great Depression. For rural states the situation is even grimmer.
At last tally, in Minnesotas Iron Range 17,600 unemployed workers were competing for 1,500 unfilled jobs, meaning the number of job-seekers outnumbered openings by nearly 12-to-1. And of the jobs available, more than half were part-time, three-quarters required no education or training beyond high school and a majority offered pay well below the cost of living.
Given this, a single vote against emergency benefits is incomprehensible. That nearly half of Republicans would deny workers and their families the basics of life should prove an unbridgeable gap.
Compromise on any issue but particularly under these circumstances and with these people does not represent a reconciliation of divergent views. It is the wholesale giveaway of basic human decency.
Cynthia Moothart is policy director with League of Rural Voters (leagueofruralvoters.org), based in Minneapolis, Minn. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
State Senator(s) / Jobless rate / Net jobs lost in 09
voting against / (Dec. 09) / (as of Dec. 09)
NV Ensign / 13.0% / -81,000
SC DeMint / 12.6 / -37,700
NC Burr / 11.2 / -124,200
AL Sessions / 11.0 / -65,000
TN Alexander, Corker / 10.9 / -89,400
KY Bunning, McConnell / 10.7 / -59,300
National Average / 10.0 /
ID Crapo, Risch / 9.1 / Not Available
TX Cornyn / 8.3 / -276,000
WY Barrasso, Enzi / 7.5 / -20,700
NH Gregg / 7.0 / Not Available
UT Bennett, Hatch / 6.7 / -46,600
OK Coburn / 6.6 / -36,700
NE Johanns / 4.7 / -25,400
SD Thune / 4.7 / -10,900
Source: Institute for Southern Studies, from Bureau of Labor Statistics.
From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2010
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