Saturday, December 11, 2010

So Who's Holding the Unemployed Hostage Now?

John Merline/Opinion Editor/AOL News (Dec. 10/2010)

With Democrats threatening to block the Obama/Republican compromise on Bush-era tax cuts, does that mean they're the ones now holding the unemployed hostage until they get their way?

That was, after all, the charge Democrats and others had often lodged against Republicans.


•Earlier this month, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said: "We could take a major step toward fixing our economy today if Republicans stopped holding the Senate hostage to more tax giveaways for millionaires."

•Last month, the liberal Daily Kos complained that the GOP was "holding 2 million unemployed hostage on behalf of richest 2%."

•Back in July, President Barack Obama accused Republicans of "using their power to hold this relief hostage -- a move that only ends up holding back our recovery. It doesn't make sense."
ut now it's Democrats who are threatening to hold up the tax deal -- and with it the extension in unemployment benefits (which have already started to run out for millions of long-term unemployed) -- until they get what they want on taxes.

On Thursday, House Democrats cast a symbolic voice vote rejecting the deal. "This message today is very simple: That in the form that it was negotiated, it is not acceptable to the House Democratic caucus. It's as simple as that," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, added: "We were told yesterday by the vice president this was a take-it-or-leave-it deal. We're saying leave it."

And Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who caucuses with Democrats, has vowed to do anything he can to block the deal in the Senate, including a filibuster.

It was all too much for some centrist Democrats. Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., for example, complained, "We are allowing the liberal wing of the Democratic caucus to hold these critically needed tax cuts hostage."

Of course, Republicans are just as guilty of flagrantly flip-flopping on this particular issue. GOP lawmakers had repeatedly fought unemployment benefit extensions that weren't paid for with spending cuts elsewhere in the federal budget.

Here's how Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., put it in July: "We've repeatedly voted for similar bills in the past. And we are ready to support one now. What we do not support -- and we make no apologies for -- is borrowing tens of billions of dollars to pass this bill at a time when the national debt is spinning completely out of control."

And just a few weeks ago, Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., argued: "We're facing a fiscal crisis in this country. If we're going to choose to extend unemployment again, we've got to find a way to pay for it."

Now, suddenly, after getting an agreement out of Obama to extend all the Bush tax cuts, that concern has dropped from Republicans' radar.

It seems that in Washington, hostage taking -- and fiscal responsibility -- are in the eye of the beholder.

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