Bipartisan Begrudging to the Unemployed

By Cynthia Moothart

Media reports surrounding Sen. Jim Bunning’s 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 don’t 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 Minnesota’s 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 (, based in Minneapolis, Minn. Email

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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