What Did Sen. Ben Nelson Want -- That He Did Not Get?

07/08/2010 07:05 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In order to escape the sound of the vuvuzelas, I turned to one of the movie channels and found Yankee Doodle Dandy playing (with James Cagney - 1942). It is wonderfully corny, but I could not believe how moved I was by the music of George M. Cohan -- Yankee Doodle Dandy, You're a Grand Old Flag and Over There. The movie was followed by the Fourth of July celebrations in Washington, New York and Boston, which always end with the playing of the Stars and Stripes Forever. Crowds are shown cheering the fireworks and the music and American flags are waving everywhere. There isn't a sign to be seen for or against anything. No posse of open gun-carriers is present.

Juxtapose this emotional and patriotic scene with Congress going home to celebrate the holiday without extending unemployment benefits primarily due to the vote of the Republicans and one Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson. There are two conflicting views of unemployment benefits. The Republicans contend that their extension is a disincentive for persons seeking employment and hurts the economy. The Democrats insist that extension of benefits will increase spending and jobs and improve the economy.

Isn't it incredible that extending benefits for the unemployed is discussed in economic rather than humane terms? Millions of people are out of work through no fault of their own. Persons who have worked 10, 20, 30 years in the same job have been laid-off. They are not lazy or drug addicts who would rather live off the government dole rather than work -- as some Republicans contend. The benefits barely meet the poverty level. They need money to live -- to feed, clothe and shelter their families. They want to work.

Sen. Ben Nelson joined the Republicans to defeat the extension. He couched his opposition in high sounding rhetoric of concern for the deficit. Of the thousands of budget line items that waste the taxpayers' money and increase the deficit, he has chosen to make a stand on unemployment benefits. Nelson's Last Stand was to extort the federal government to pay Nebraska's Medicaid expenses in order to acquire his vote on health care. One cannot help but wonder what he sought or will seek in exchange for this vote.

Extension of unemployment benefits may or may not help the economy. There indeed may be persons out there who would rather receive the benefits than work. But the vast majority are in desperate need of assistance and would work if given the opportunity. While Sen. Nelson was probably celebrating the holiday at home with a cook-out, many families have nothing to cook. We know that the Republicans checked their humanity in the Senate Cloak Room the day of President Obama's Inauguration. They espouse the hypocrisy of less government intervention in industry (like oil), and then without any compunction, simultaneously complain that the government is not doing enough to stop or contain the oil spill. But when a Democrat steps across the aisle for the purpose of defeating a bill that the American people truly need under the guise of reducing the deficit (an argument that could be made against any spending legislation), we have to wonder what has happened to us. How can we refuse to take care of those who have taken care of us for all of these years? Where is that great patriotic and community American spirit that infuses us with its music and fireworks on the Fourth of July? If we can spend billions on a weekly basis in Afghanistan and Iraq, we certainly should be able to find money to feed and clothe those in need in our own country. We need a new sequel to Over There -- Over Here!