When Gov. Bobby Jindal formally responds to the president tonight, and introduces himself to much of America, will he make central his bizarre crusade against increased unemployment benefits?
He has already drawn attention to himself in recent days by refusing to take increased federal funds for unemployment insurance, since it would require his state -- which is currently quite stingy to its unemployed -- to offer benefits to more unemployed people.
His decision to reject the funds would leave 25,000 unemployed people without assistance, reported ThinkProgress based on data from the National Employment Law Project.
Beyond the immorality of the decision, that's 25,000 fewer people pumping money into the economy. Economist Mark Zandi found extending unemployment benefits was the second most effective stimulus measure, behind increasing food stamps, because those who need the money most are sure to spend it to make ends meet.
That point was reiterated by Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke today, as he warned governors not to undermine the stimulus plan.
Gov. Jindal's argument? As he said on Meet The Press, "The federal stimulus bill says it has to be a permanent change in state law if you take this state money. And so within three years the federal money's gone, we've got now a permanent change in our laws, we have to pay for it, our businesses pay for it."
But that's not true.
Yes, Louisiana would have to change the law to expand eligibility for unemployment insurance, ditch arcane rule that don't apply to modern realities of the workplace, and catch up to what most other states do. Per the NY Times editorial board, that includes "extending benefits to part-time workers or those who leave their jobs for urgent family reasons, like domestic violence or gravely ill children."
And yes, technically it cannot be a temporary law that formally expires on a set date.
But As the Baltimore Sun editorial board observed, seems like Gov. Jindal and other conservative governors are not really worried about the feds, but about their own state's voters: (emphasis added)
Furthermore, the specter of having to raise taxes even if the new state law remained in effect is not necessarily true. The National Employment Law Project explained yesterday that more likely the opposite is true, states taking the federal funds will give business tax cuts. (emphasis added)
But what seems to annoy South Carolina's Mark Sanford and Louisiana's Bobby Jindal is that a temporary boost in federal funding for programs such as Medicaid could prove addictive. Their electorates might just decide that they don't want benefits to vanish when the stimulus well goes dry.
States that adopt the unemployment insurance reforms that qualify for modernization incentive funding receive millions in federal grants up front, deposited all at once in their state unemployment trust funds at the very moment the funds most need the help. In many states, this major infusion of funds will avert mandatory tax increases that would otherwise take effect as state unemployment trust funds dropped below specified levels...
...Many other states that currently provide unemployment benefits to an especially low percentage of workers, including South Carolina (34% of the unemployed collect jobless benefits), Mississippi (25 percent) and South Dakota (17 percent), would also realize reductions in employer tax obligations as a result of the federal funds...
Aside from failing to have the facts on his side, Gov. Jindal has an interesting political choice to make tonight.
It is obvious that he is posturing, at the expense of his state's economy and the needs of his unemployed constituents, to pander to the conservative base and gain support for a presidential run.
But while denying help to the unemployed may still play well in conservative circles, it likely would not play well for a larger national TV audience.
We'll see if he wants his big introduction to the national stage to announce he is so conservative that he does not want to help those hurt by the failed conservative policies of the last several years.
UPDATE 11 PM ET: Gov. Jindal might have given the worst opposition party response in history, but he wasn't stupid enough to advertise his hatred of the unemployed. No mention of the issue whatsoever.
Originally posted on OurFuture.org