Thanksgiving may be a time to give thanks for our blessings, but in Washington the resurgent Republicans are jettisoning compassion. They have the same old leaders—and their passion hasn't changed. It isn't about offering a hand to the afflicted; it's about handouts to the connected.
Republicans have continued their strategy of obstruction in the lame-duck session by opposing the New Start treaty, opposing repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," opposing immigration reform and even opposing appropriations for the current year. Their passion is focused on one goal: extending the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 a year. Forget about deficit reduction. According to the GOP, tax cuts for the wealthy—which will cost an estimated $700 billion over the next decade—need not be balanced by spending cuts.
At the same time, the GOP is willing to filibuster to block extending benefits to the long-term unemployed—the families of some 2 million workers—which expire at the end of November. The Republicans won't sign on, they say, unless there are domestic spending cuts to offset the benefits. So much for holiday cheer.
The consequences of inaction are grim. According to the Center for American Progress, unemployment insurance lifted 3.3 million people, including a million children, out of poverty in 2009. Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research points out that "all the projections show the unemployment rate will be much higher over the next year than it was when we originally extended benefits." If benefits aren't extended, millions will go hungry. According to a new report from the Agriculture Department, in 2009 about 50 million people, including 17 million children, lived in food-insecure households.
Why do Republicans go to the wall for the wealthy while abandoning those who have lost their jobs because of Wall Street's recklessness? This isn't hard to figure out. Secret donors spent more than $138 million on the midterms, with 80 percent of the money going to Republicans. NBC News reports that a good proportion of the money raised by Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS came from wealthy hedge-funders furious at Democratic efforts to repeal the outrageous "carried interest" loophole, which allows billionaires to pay taxes at a lower rate than their chauffeurs.
The Chamber of Commerce spent nearly $33 million in secret donations in this year's elections, virtually all of it for Republican candidates. So it shouldn't be surprising that the priorities announced by GOP Congressional leaders Mitch McConnell and John Boehner reflect those of the Chamber: lowering taxes on the wealthy and corporations, repealing healthcare and rolling back Wall Street reform. These priorities are totally divorced from those of the American people, who are overwhelmingly concerned about jobs and the economy. In a new survey by the National Employment Law Project and Half in Ten, 67 percent of voters believe Congress should continue to provide unemployment benefits until the jobless rate comes down substantially.
"Where are the jobs?" That was House Speaker-presumptive Boehner's mantra during the election campaign; but jobs are AWOL in the Republican program. It's turning out that the Republicans have plenty of compassion, but it's not for ordinary citizens, and certainly not for the unemployed. It's for the wealthiest among us—the hedge-funders, the bankers and those in the corporate sector, who so lavishly fund the GOP campaigns. And the only jobs they care about are their own.