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No extra help now for unemployed

The U.S. House of Representatives has rejected an extension of unemployment benefits beyond their Nov. 30 expiration date — stopping benefits for 800,000 workers, report the Wall Street Journal’s Janet Hook and Martin Vaughan. The Journal suggests that Congress may yet compromise on unemployment benefits — GOP leaders want the $12 billion cost offset with spending cuts elsewhere in the federal budget. However, if no agreement is reached, 2 million additional people will lose benefits in December. The lack of an extension hits Illinois especially hard: the state continues to have an unemployment rate above the national average.

So the irrationality of lawmaking has once again prevented the federal government from being a positive force. On the merits, extending unemployment insurance makes sense even if you’re opposed in principle to helping the jobless. Micah Maidenberg of Progress Illinois cites a U.S. Dept. of Labor study that every dollar toward providing unemployment insurance produces two dollars of economic stimulus.

But Congress is not taking unemployment insurance on its merits. Neither the House nor Senate has reached a decision on it, just as no decisions has been made on the expiring Bush tax cuts, and — oh yeah — the the fiscal year 2011 budget for every single federal agency. The inattention to drafting agency spending bills (which were supposed to pass by Sep. 30) plus inattention to how the Bush tax cuts link to Washington’s current obsession with the deficit mocks concerns that an unemployment insurance extension will cost $12 billion. It is an anxious time for people like federal employees, government contractors, and unemployed citizens whose lives are shaped by Congress’s whims.

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