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January 07, 2014 10:36 AM GOP Squirming on UI

By Ed Kilgore

I don’t know what will happen this morning in the Senate on the Reed-Heller UI extension bill, but the Senate is obviously only one hurdle the legislation must overcome. So the broader GOP effort to rationalize the opposition of most of its congressional members to the extension is a pretty big deal, insofar as it may insulate them from the kind of political panic that sometimes happens when a political party finds itself sharply at odds with public opinion. It would probably take a panic, or some sort of deal that’s not in sight just yet, to get a UI extension through the House.

Greg Sargent has been carefully watching Republicans squirm on UI, and is convinced the party is trying to reframe its opposition as totally about fiscal responsibility rather than a sort of glowering hostility to the long-term unemployed as a bunch of bums and UI as a disincentive to employment:

[T]he GOP party-wide position is now one of fiscal responsibility. Never mind that multiple Republicans have repeatedly said extending UI is a bad idea because it will dissuade the jobless from seeking employment.

There are two main problems, of course, with the “fiscal responsibility” argument and the demand for “offsets.” The first is that offsets are likely to be deflationary (e.g., additional cuts in appropriations), and will neutralize the positive macroeconomic impact of the UI extension. And the second is that at present the public favors a UI extension as a simple matter of fairness, with or without offsets. It’s not at all clear, then, that the “fiscal responsibility” argument will completely protect Republicans from the suspicion that they really think of the long-term unemployed as riff-raff who need to shape up or die—a sort of “tough hate” attitude.

It’s a shame Frank Luntz is apparently wandering around Las Vegas in some sort of daze right now. GOPers could really use him to come up with a new language to turn a preference for austerity and indifference to human needs into something warm and cuddly.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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