Jan 6, 2003
On December 28, three days after Christmas, 780,000 workers were cut off of unemployment benefits. Congress had gone home for the holidays without passing the bill that would have kept their checks coming.
Each week that passes, another 95,000 or so workers will be cut off as their eligibility runs out.
Of course Congress kept some other checks coming. And not only coming – since Congress raised its own pay by 3.1%.
This was the final act in a staged election-year drama. Last March, President Bush signed a bill that Congress had passed extending unemployment benefits for an additional 13 weeks – just in time for the 2002 election campaigns. But the hook was that the bill expired – in December 2002, that is, just as soon as the elections were safely past.
Now Bush and Congress are making speeches about how the first order of business in the new Congress will be to restore some unemployment benefits. It's another game – which will be played out with lots of hearings, debates, wrangling, etc. – that is taking lots of time.
Of course, Congress doesn't always act so slowly. It didn't take them but a few minutes to vote down an amendment offered by one senator to freeze their own pay while unemployment is so high.
It all depends on what's important to Congress – and the plight of the unemployed certainly isn't.