Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) said on the House floor Monday that Republicans are blocking a reauthorization of unemployment benefits in order to resurrect the America of the 1930s.
"There was no unemployment insurance back then," Grayson said, in one of the more colorful speeches on the issue. "There was no State benefits back then. There was no help for the people who had no jobs. All they could do, like my grandfather, in desperate straits, supporting a family of seven, was to go to the dump and desperately try to find something he could sell.
"That, my friends, is the America that the Republicans are trying to revive. The America of desperate straits, and for them cheap labor. The America where people have nothing, hope for nothing, and are desperate to live to the next day. That is what the Republicans are trying to resurrect by blocking unemployment insurance day after day, week after week, and now month after month."
More than 2.5 million people who've been out of work for longer than six months have stopped receiving federally-funded extended benefits since the end of May, when Congress failed to reauthorize the benefits. Republicans in the Senate, joined by Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson, have filibustered the bill because they don't want its $33 billion cost added to the deficit (even though that is the usual way with federal extended benefits).
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) made an argument similar to Grayson's when he told HuffPost in June he thought the GOP was waging class warfare. "The Social Security Act of 1935 made these entitlements, Social Security and unemployment insurance and welfare," McDermott said. "The Republicans have been after all three of those programs ever since 1935. They got welfare a few years ago, because that's poor people. They could jump on them. But unemployment and Social Security is middle-class people -- they haven't been able to get them, but it isn't because they're not willing to try."
Grayson suggested, as many Democrats have, that Republicans are unfamiliar with regular folks dealing with the jobs crisis. "Now, I know what the Republicans are thinking. They're thinking why don't they just sell some stock," said Grayson (who is himself a millionaire). "If they're in really dire straits, maybe they could take some of their art collection and send it off to the auctioneer. And if they're in deep, deep trouble maybe these unemployed can sell one of their yachts."
Senate Democrats, joined by Carte Goodwin, the interim replacement for the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), will try again to break the GOP filibuster Tuesday afternoon after falling one vote short in their previous attempt. People who missed checks will be paid retroactively; people who exhausted all weeks of benefits available before the lapse will get nothing.
"And I will say this to the Republicans who have blocked this bill now for months and kept food out of the mouths of children," Grayson concluded. "I will say to them now, may God have mercy on your souls."
After Grayson spoke, Iowa Republican Steve King offered a rebuttal. "I am awfully glad he's not been appointed to be St. Peter. If he could make that call at the pearly gates, I am pretty convinced that every single Republican would be condemned to the fires of hell by his judgment," said King, who pointed to GOP alternative versions of the unemployment extension that would pay for the benefits by taking money from the stimulus bill, which the Democrats have rejected.
"And let's remember this is $33 billion or $34 billion with a B, billion dollars, to extend unemployment benefits for 99 weeks," continued King. "For practical purposes let's just give that in round numbers. You only have to round that up about three weeks to get to two years. Two years of unemployment extended by the United States Congress, the tab picked up by the taxpayers of America, money coming from where? Well, let's just say the Chinese, for want of a better source. As long as they keep loaning us money, we'll borrow it, and we'll borrow money to pay people not to work to the tune of 99 weeks of unemployment."