There was a grim, understated hilarity to the Senate debate over extending unemployment benefits yesterday. Republicans piously insisted that any extension of unemployment benefits, whose cost to the government is both small and temporary, must be offset with spending cuts:
The lift just got heavier for Senate Democrats with the swearing in this week of Illinois Republican Mark Kirk. Asked whether he would support extending the jobless benefits, Kirk took a stance most Republicans take: "If it's paid for by cutting other items in the budget, I will be a yes vote. If it's added to further debts of the United States, no."
Late Tuesday, Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Jack Reed defended his party's proposal to extend unemployment benefits for a year without cutting other items in the budget.
"We've always done it on an emergency basis, because it truly is an emergency," Reed said. "We haven't sought to offset it, because we've always determined that it was necessary to get the money to the people who could use it, who needed it desperately, and we should do that again."
Reed then proposed that the Senate take up the extension. Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown objected, even as he expressed sympathy to onlookers in the Senate gallery for those losing their benefits.
"Make no mistake, I agree that they need help, but I look at it as: Are we going to do it from the bank account, or are we going to put it on the credit card?" he said.
Democrats in turn rejected Brown's proposal to cut other government funding to pay for more jobless benefits. Both sides say the solution may be to attach those benefits to a deal extending the Bush-era tax cuts.
The last line is the funny part. The Republican position is that it's fiscally irresponsible to temporarily extend unemployment benefits during an economic crisis. But they might accept a "compromise" to extend them along with a vastly more expensive and completely un-paid-for extension of the Bush tax cuts! If I were more cynical I might doubt the sincerity of their claim to be concerned about the national debt.