With the help of Ben Nelson, the ruling Senate minority has killed, yet again, unemployment insurance extensions.
(As an aside: can we please stop calling people like Nelson "moderates?" Isn't it at least as appropriate to call someone "depraved" when that individual happily supports massive tax cuts for the wealthy (and endless wars, financing of which Nelson has utterly non-sensical ideas about), while claiming that his fealty to fiscal prudence means he cannot tolerate spending $33 billion dollars to prevent two million Americans and their families from personal catastrophe?)
Click here for details of Nelson's repeated votes to shield the wealthiest Americans from more taxes (votes which will cost the US treasury orders of magnitude more money than the unemployment extensions against which he's voting because he says we need to make "hard choices."
A few weeks ago, Brad Delong observed that:
The most astonishing and surprising thing I find about Washington DC today is the contrast in mood between DC today and what DC was thinking a generation ago, in 1983, the last time the unemployment rate was kissing 10%. Back then it was a genuine national emergency that unemployment was so high--real policies like massive monetary ease and the eruption of the Reagan deficits were put in place to reduce unemployment quickly, and everybody whose policies wouldn't have much of an effect on jobs was nevertheless claiming that their projects were the magic unemployment-reducing bullet.
Today.... nobody much in DC seems to care. A decade of widening wealth inequality that has created a chattering class of reporters, pundits, and lobbyists who have no connection with mainstream America? The collapse of the union movement and thus of the political voice of America's sellers of labor power? I don't know what the cause is. But it does astonish me.
(Back in the fall, I provided one possible answer to Delong's questions.)
How will we explain ourselves to our children? In what kind of sick society do our government officials agree to bailout malfeasant banks to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, while apologizing to their mega-rich top executives for the "aggravation" and "inconvenience" of having to make a show of negotiating with them before giving them everything they could possibly want?
And in that same society, accept that while plutocratic interests must be protected at all costs -- whether Big Pharma and the medical industrial complex, Goldman Sachs and the financial plutocracy, the military industrial complex -- our deficits (overwhelmingly attributable to these interests) must be attacked on the backs of the middle class and the poor?
Here, by the way, is a chart detailing the relative fiscal bang for the buck of each dollar spent by the government (or not collected in taxes). It's from Mark Zandi of the radical communist Moody's Economy.com, from testimony he gave to the House of Representatives in 2008. Note that things like extending unemployment insurance, which directly pump money into the economy, represent a significant economic payoff (in growth, and therefore deficit-reducing revenues), while cutting taxes on corporations and the wealthy represent a clear net negative for our fiscal bottom line. Guess which kinds of expenditures can get through Congress these days and which can't, thanks to people like Ben Nelson, even though, on Nelson's own terms, the expenditures he opposes do far more for the economy than the deficit-inducing tax cuts he supports?
Honestly, can it get any more perverse than this? Wait, don't answer that!
Jonathan Weiler's second book, Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics, co-authored with Marc Hetherington, was published in 2009 by Cambridge University Press. He blogs daily about politics and sports at www.jonathanweiler.com