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GOP Wants to Extend Bush Tax Cuts, Not Jobless Benefits. Can Dems Seize the Moment?

Roger Bybee

U.S. Senate Minority Whip Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) speaks in opposition to the unemployment benefits extension being sought by Senate Democrats during a news conference on March 26, 2010.

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The Republicans are brazenly displaying their loyalty to the richest 1 percent of Americans by fighting to extend George W. Bush’s tax cuts at the very same time they oppose an extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless.

So why aren’t leading Democrats happier as the Republicans recklessly show their blatant disregard for the desperate and devotion to rich? White House spokesman Robert Gibson even predicted this week that the Republicans could re-take the House. What gives?

The Republicans’ utterly indefensible position was neatly captured in a McClatchy Newspapers headline: GOP: No more help for jobless, but rich must keep tax cuts.” Steven Benen of the Washington Monthly explains the GOP’s hypocritical posture:

Republicans almost unanimously oppose spending $33.9 billion for extended unemployment benefits for some 2.5 million people who’ve lost them, because they say it would increase federal budget deficits.

At the same time, they’re pushing a permanent extension of Bush administration tax cuts, especially for the wealthy, which could increase federal budget deficits by trillions of dollars over the next 10 years….

It’s generally hard to guess what the public will find compelling, but if I had to guess, I’d say more Americans would rather spend $33.9 billion for extended unemployment benefits than $678 billion for tax cuts for the wealthy.


In The War At Home, Frances Fox Piven documents that the median Bush tax cut for ordinary Americans has been a measly $217 a year, while it showers $93,000 annually on those earning more than $1 million.

So why aren’t Democratic leaders jubilant about the chance to exploit the Republicans’ naked act of class warfare? After all, the Republicans, in the midst of severe economic hardship, are supporting more wealth for those who need it least?

Moreover, tax cuts for the wealthy just add to their massive bank accounts and provide virtually no economic stimulus — unlike unemployment benefits, which get devoted to food, mortgage, and gas as soon as the weekly check arrives.

Unforunately, there’s good reason for the Democrats’ pessimism, based on their shabby treatment of their most excited and hopeful voters. This is bound to be a crucial factor shaping who shows up at the polls in a non-presidential year.

Perhaps top Democrats are finally recognizing the huge enthusiasm gap” between their now demoralized, drifting constituents and the ferocious and focused activism of the Republican base.

Obama entered the White House facing an unprecedented level of problems, but he also had an extraordinarily involved and well-organized base of voters. But the White House has taken these voters for granted while playing for legitimacy with Wall Street. For example, It’s amazing to recall that just weeks before the BP disaster Obama had capitulated to endorsing off-shore drilling.


On the positive side, Democratic voters will typically point to Obama’s all-out fight for the $787 stimulus program, which stopped the hemorrhage of 700,000 jobs being lost every month.

However, that signal victory has not been enough to either revitalize the economy nor restore the morale of core Democratic voters, as many of them are especially hard-hit by the Great Recessions. (Art Levine recently articulated on this site the paralysis of the Democrats in delivering substantive economic improvement for their most ardent supporters.)

To make matters worse, most Democrats in Congress have not been responding to the GOP denial of extended unemployment insurance as if the Republicans had staged a Pearl Harbor-style bombing run on working-class America.

If the Democrats had more credibility as tough fighters willing to risk anything for working people hammered by Wall Street, they would be much better positioned to use the current situation to dramatize the distinctions between the two parties as we head toward November’s elections.

For example, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) argues that America cannot afford extended unemployment benefits without offsetting cuts in human-service programs. At the same time, Kyl argues that continuing Bush’s regressive tax cuts is a moral crusade so urgent that the resulting deficits need not be considered. “[Y]ou should never have to offset cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans,” he thundered incoherently.

Let’s try to translate Kyl: extending unemployment checks (at a maximum of $350 a week) must be offset by human-service cuts. But tax cuts averaging $93,000 a year for millionaires are a cause so sacrosanct that its impact on deficits need never be considered.

It will be both tragic and farcical if the Democrats can’t seize on such hypocrisy and use it to define the Republicans for the November elections.

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Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and University of Illinois visiting professor in Labor Education. Roger’s work has appeared in numerous national publications, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, The Progressive, Progressive Populist, Huffington Post, The American Prospect, Yes! and Foreign Policy in Focus. More of his work can be found at zcom​mu​ni​ca​tions​.org/​z​s​p​a​c​e​/​r​o​g​e​r​d​bybee.
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