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Message to Tom Coburn: Blocking Unemployment Benefits Is the Opposite of Courageous

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For months now, the Republican Party has decided to stand up for America's fiscal rectitude by denying benefits to a segment of Americans facing the most difficult circumstances -- the long-term unemployed. As of today, four Republicans have voted with most Democrats to invoke cloture and pave the way for final passage of a bill that will extend emergency unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed. But Republicans -- first Kentucky's Jim Bunning, then Oklahoma's Tom Coburn, clearly backed by the GOP leadership -- have done their darndest to try to stop this from happening.

Though Congress is now poised to move ahead on the extension, several hundred thousand Americans have already had their benefits cut as a result of Coburn's and the GOP's actions.

And why?

Coburn has insisted it's about courage (courtesy of Think Progress):

The easiest thing in the world is to pass this bill unpaid for, but consider the millions of Americans whose financial futures would be damaged, versus the relatively small amount of people who will be affected by this delay. Now you tell me which vote takes the most courage.

As Think Progress notes, Coburn is "wrong on the economics:"

Providing unemployment benefits is one of the most effective steps that a government can take in terms of economic stimulus, and unless the economy starts moving again, long-term deficits ("financial futures") will never be brought under control. As the National Employment Law Project's Judy Conti explained, "every economist from every side of the political spectrum will tell you that unemployment benefits are most stimulative when they are not offset. In the history of the unemployment program, we have never offset these programs."

It's laughable for Coburn to argue that this expenditure will come at the cost of the financial futures of millions of Americans, both because the statement is transparently untrue and because Coburn, as his position on other fiscal matters makes clear, doesn't give a rat's ass about the financial futures of ordinary Americans. The current extension will cost about $9 billion. That's less than a tenth of a percent of America's GDP. It's well under a week's worth of spending on our military industrial complex. And it's less than one percent of the total estimated cost of estate tax repeal, a position that Coburn has essentially repeatedly supported (despite the fact that repeal or further reductions in the estate tax only benefit a tiny fraction of wealthy Americans, while hurting virtually everybody else). And it comes out to about $30 per American.

Furthermore, when given the chance to vote for Pentagon spending in a bill in which that spending was attached to offsets (in this case, the offsets would have involved raising capital gains taxes), Coburn was opposed. In other words, when the off-set involved putting a crimp in the lifestyles of the rich and famous, Coburn's insistence on paying for what we spend went out the window.

In short, Tom Coburn has had little difficulty over the years voting for massive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, which are exponentially more budget-busting than the unemployment benefits he's been holding up (and also far more costly than the Veterans Benefits he blocked last Fall, also because he alleged he was concerned about the cost).

Other than his craven hypocrisy, what's most disgraceful about Tom Coburn and his ilk is that he will preach all day about Christian values, notwithstanding the fact that only the most twisted interpretation of Jesus' own teachings could possibly lead one to authorize trillions in tax breaks for the wealthy, while at the same time cutting off at the knees the poor and downtrodden among us.

There is no principle here -- only fundamental disregard for the less fortunate and cowardly bullying. Coburn and company can dress it up anyway they want it, but when the history of this period is written, it will be among the more remarkable facts that those who most loudly claimed that they were spreading the gospel of Jesus will have been those who showed the most fundamental contempt for his core values.

Jonathan Weiler's second book, Authoritarianism and Polarization in Contemporary American Politics, co-authored with Marc Hetherington, was published in 2009 by Cambridge University Press. He blogs about politics and sports at

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