When all eyes turned to New Orleans, I thought, finally, things will change.
Senator Bernie Sanders ripped into his Republican counterparts during an MSNBC appearance on Friday for their refusal to extend unemployment benefits, reminding viewers that the GOP is destroying hundreds of thousands of jobs and threatening the recovery by tearing regular income away from 1.3 million American families.
"When these people don't have any income coming in, they're obviously not spending any money," he said. "Economists tell us that will result in a two-tenths of 1 percent drop in our GDP and the loss of about 160,000 jobs. So, I think from a moral perspective, from an economic perspective, we can't turn our backs on struggling people who just can't find work."
Added, the White House's Council of Economic Advisers and the U.S. Department of Labor agree with Sanders' point, although they estimate (PDF) that cutting benefits will cost over 240,000 jobs in 2014, instead of just 160,000.
Passed in 2008 at the height of the economic crisis, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program has served over 24 million Americans, according to the Department of Labor. By extension, the program has also served those people's families, widening the benefit's reach to 69 million Americans. And in 2012 alone, the program lifted 2.4 million out of poverty.
Republicans in Congress, however, are adamant that these benefits must end.
While their plan to kick millions of Americans into poverty will take effect as of Saturday, the GOP is playing a risky game if recent polling is to be believed. The Democratic-affiliated Public Policy Polling group reported this week that a supermajority of Americans want unemployment benefits extended, including a plurality of Republicans and a majority of Independents in key bellwether congressional districts.
While there is a bill in the Senate to extend those benefits, it is very unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled House. So, progressive groups have already begun advertising against Republicans for kicking the poor "to the curb" during the Christmas season. "So, to the 1.3 million Americans losing unemployment benefits, Merry Christmas from the GOP," a recent 30-second spot by Americans United for Change jabs.
That's exactly what Sanders has in mind, too.
"I'll tell you how you do it: you go to the American people," he said. "For example, the Rand Pauls and virtually every other Republican wanted to cut Social Security, wanted to cut Medicare, wanted to cut Medicaid. Guess what? We didn't cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, because some of us worked very hard to rally millions of Americans who are saying, you're not going to balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor, just to give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires and large corporations. And when you take that case to the American people, we are going to win that."
Photo: Flickr user AFGE, creative commons licensed.