Where bipartisanship is out of order

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While the food stamp program was once paired with the farm bill in a way to create a “something for everyone” bipartisan approach, the uncoupled two bills allow farmers to gain while hungry people don’t.  Still, failure to adjust aspects of the farm bill may cause milk prices to rise before Congress returns to work in January.  No matter.  Republicans in Congress seem to subscribe to the Marie Antoinette theory of food distribution. Let them eat cake. No worries for the hungry or the poor. There is cake somewhere.  They just, says Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky., “have to get a job.”

While budget-lite passed, the unemployment insurance extension did not. On Dec. 28, 1.3 million long- term unemployed people will collect their last check, unless new legislation is passed in January. Congress says it “might” look at retroactive benefits.  Get a job, Sen. Paul? Really?  Senator Paul apparently does not read the monthly Employment Situation, released last week.

While it indicated that the unemployment rate dropped to 7 percent in November, it also reported that more than four million people have been unemployed for more than half a year.  Additionally, the alternative measures of unemployment, which include part time and discouraged workers, suggest that real unemployment is 13.2 percent (and 25 percent for African-Americans).  Where are these unemployed people supposed to find jobs, when the federal government has removed itself from the job creation business even as our infrastructure continues to fray?

The unemployment insurance extension would cost $26 billion for two years.  Budget balancers say that’s too much and pushes the federal budget into further deficit.  The economy is hurt, not helped, when the unemployed don’t have money.  Their inability to spend will slow economic recovery and will further slow job creation.  The unwillingness to assist those considered “collateral damage” in our broken economy has less to do with fiscal responsibility than with the “get a job, let them eat cake” mentality embraced by so many Tea Party republicans.

To fully applaud the Murray/Paul budget is like applauding people for saying hello.  It is a tenuous bipartisanship, and it is a compromised achieved on the backs of the hungry and the unemployed.   The Murray/Paul budget is an example of the devolution of bipartisanship from the days when two men reached across the aisle to figure out how to reduce the amount of food insecurity in our nation.

(Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer.  She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.)

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