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Will fiscal hawks devour unemployment benefits?

The U.S. Dept. of Labor estimates that 124,000 people in Illinois, 2 million nationally, would be impacted by Congress not passing an extension of unemployment insurance benefits. The benefits expire Nov. 30. Yet as Sean F. Driscoll of the Rockford Register Star reports, there is a very good chance that the lame duck Congress will not get around to this.

Driscoll contextualizes how remarkable it would be if benefits were not extended. First, the expiration in benefits would happen right in the holiday season — you would think that might be political suicide for fiscal conservatives. Second, the fiscal hawks want the $6 billion that the benefits will cost to be offset by $6 billion in cuts elsewhere in the federal budget. This might sound reasonable. But a closer look reveals that A.) lawmakers have not at all talked seriously about what exactly might be cut and B.) every single recession since World War Two has resulted in sustained extensions of unemployment benefits.

There are many government programs that deserve significant cuts because they contribute to America’s untenable long-term deficit. Extending unemployment insurance to help the economic downturn’s greatest victims and stimulate the economy isn’t one of them. The deficit hawks are flying high now in Washington. However, a move to halt unemployment benefits is political overreach with major consequences for America’s long-term unemployed.

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