When Democrats in the House of Representatives stumbled attempting to reauthorize unemployment insurance in May, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) observed that the unforeseen wave of Democratic deficit hysteria had organic roots: It came from members who represented districts with low unemployment rates.
New Hampshire Democrat Paul Hodes, a musician who campaigned in 2004 on a "Rock and Roll Back the Deficit Tour" and who represents a state with unemployment well below the national average, did not join in the calls for deficit reduction. Hodes, who is running for Senate, would prefer to differentiate himself from the Republicans who ultimately filibustered jobless aid for nearly two months.
"We are dealing with extremist, obstructionist, lying hypocrites who think you don't have to pay for tax cuts for the wealthiest but are holding up help for the neediest," Hodes told HuffPost during an interview at the Netroots Nation conference in Las Vegas. "Believe me, I understand the long-term deficit crisis. We gotta get to address it. To get there, we have to focus on the short-term jobs crisis we've got and support the fragile economic recovery we're in."
That's a view shared by many economists -- including Mark Zandi, a former adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- and by most registered voters, too.
Nevertheless, Republicans insisted that the $33-billion cost of reauthorizing the unemployment benefits be "paid for" and not added to the deficit. The GOP is not applying the same fiscal discipline to the estimated $678-billion deficit cost of reauthorizing soon-to-expire tax cuts for the wealthy.
Hodes said the deficit debate, which for 50 days prevented more than 2.5 million long-term unemployed from receiving checks, is about more than just deficits. "It's a fundamental question -- 'What is the role of federal government?' -- that is beneath questions about fiscal responsibility and spending," he said.
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) told HuffPost a few weeks ago that the demands for spending cuts to offset the cost of the federally-funded extended benefits -- which have never been fully offset with spending cuts -- amounted to an assault on the New Deal. "The Social Security Act of 1935 made these entitlements, Social Security and unemployment insurance and welfare," he said. "The Republicans have been after all three of those programs ever since 1935. They got welfare a few years ago, because that's poor people. They could jump on them. But unemployment and Social Security is middle-class people -- they haven't been able to get them, but it isn't because they're not willing to try."
But Hodes said he does not actually oppose the concept of paying for unemployment benefits. "I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time. I think it is viable to do as much as we can to cut wasteful spending," he said. "Politically it's difficult because of the way things get polarized. The problem with the spending cuts often is they are longer-term policy debates that we are having in the context of a continuing economic crisis."
Hodes said he's open to reforming the Senate. "I'm sympathetic to a close look at what has to happen with things like anonymous holds, with things like the filibuster," he said. "It's not constitutional, it's not statutory. It's a rule."
Republicans in the Senate were aided in their filibuster of unemployment benefits by Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson, who simply said all along that he was looking out for his constituents.
"One of the jobs of a senator," said Hodes, "is to properly balance the parochial interest with the interests of the nation."