Last week, forty Republican Senators and one Democrat blocked action on extended unemployment benefits. This week, three GOP Senators were absent for the roll call but the end result was the same -- no relief for the long-term unemployed. By the time those 41 lawmakers return from their Fourth of July recess, 2 million Americans will have spent their final unemployment check.
Republicans, however, will not shed crocodile tears over the pain inflicted on the jobless. Instead they will cheer every vote cast that diminishes, delays or denies help to the 31 million Americans idled by this Grave Recession.
During the Bush administration, those same Republicans supported policies that are the proximate causes of our economic turmoil -- deficit financing of tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation of the financial market place and the de-industrialization of America in the name of free trade. But rather than accept responsibility for their own disastrous policies, the GOP started a vendetta against the jobless.
Republican attacks on America's jobless are neither random acts of meanness nor the ravings of a lunatic fringe. They are hostile acts in a partisan strategy. By attacking the powerless, Republican lawmakers hoped to align their party with the powerful, capture control of the next Congress and, ultimately, win back the White House.
Occasionally, Republican law makers telegraph their deep disdain for the unemployed. Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) did so with his one-man filibuster against extended unemployment. Senator John Kyl (R-TX) suggested unemployment acted as "a disincentive for them to seek new work." Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) felt the jobless should be drug tested in order to qualify for unemployment insurance. And Congressman Dean Heller (R-NV) used the word "hobos" to demean those on unemployment.
And yet, their actions speak louder than their words. In sixty-five roll call votes, GOP lawmakers announced their policy for the unemployed: Forgetaboutit!
Starting with their vehement opposition to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, House and Senate Republicans cast 1,477 votes against that jobs bill and 44 votes in support! Thirty-five of those 44 votes cast opposed motions to recommit. So, the single largest job creation bill in American history drew nine Republican votes -- three each from Senators Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Arlen Specter. And that was it -- only 9 votes in support of the jobless out of 1,521 votes cast by the Grand Old Party of Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.
An identical pattern appears on the Commerce, Justice Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2010 which dealt, in part, with unemployment insurance and COBRA. Across 33 roll call votes conducted in both chambers, Republicans cast 4,191 votes in opposition and only 239 votes in support of the measure. The GOP's vendetta was unrelenting.
And when Democrats sought a two-month extension of unemployment benefits and the COBRA subsidy in April, the GOP forced eight procedural votes in the Senate. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) caused his caucus to cast 323 votes against helping the unemployed. Only three Republican Senators cast votes to aid the jobless.
Not surprisingly, when a five month extension of benefits to the unemployed moved through the Congress, the GOP assault grew even more vicious and lopsided. So far, the Tax Extender Act, which is theoretically still under consideration, drew 1,199 hundred GOP votes against helping the jobless. Just 35 GOP votes were recorded for the jobless.
On all four measures -- each a vital lifeline for the unemployed -- Republicans in both chambers cast 7,291 votes against the jobless and only 371 to help them. Democrats cast 10,440 votes to help the jobless and 568 votes to harm them. The contrast between the two parties could not be more striking.
Not once, but 65 times, did the Grand Old Party stick a stiletto in the back of America's unemployed and underemployed. Those repeated thrusts, crimes not of passion but of cold-blooded revenge, were pay back for their having lost the White House and control of Congress.
Republican lawmakers knew that the surge voters of 2008 -- blue collar workers without a high school diploma, African-Americans, Latinos, union members and college students -- were experiencing the highest rates of unemployment. So with each vote they cast, the GOP gave that stiletto a sharp twist.
Then insults were added to injuries. And when the jobless did not respond with an eye for an eye, Republican lawmakers thought they were getting away with murder. They thought that the jobless were clueless, that no one noticed their fingerprints all over the Congressional Record. But they were dead wrong.
Starting a blood feud with the 31 million Americans idled in this Grave Recession was a strategic mistake by the GOP. True, the jobless are angry and frustrated. They are also survivors. And, even though many of them will go hungry tonight, they know this: revenge is a dish best eaten cold.
Come Election Day, the GOP's vendetta against the jobless could produce a blood bath, just not the one that Republican lawmakers expected.
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