By Teresa Welsh |
On Tuesday night, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Middle Class Tax Relief & Job Creation Act of 2011, a Republican-sponsored plan that addresses important topics like payroll tax cuts, the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and unemployment benefits. The federal extension of unemployment benefits is set to expire at the beginning of 2012, and both Republicans and Democrats have said that the temporary extension of unemployment benefits is in the national interest. Their specifics for legislation authorizing that extension differ, and one notable caveat in the Republican plan empowers states with the right to mandate drug tests for welfare recipients. Lawmakers have experimented with similar legislation in states like Florida, New Jersey, and Indiana, but the constitutionality of those laws has been questioned each time.
Political sparring over this specific part of the Republican bill is one of the reasons Majority Leader Harry Reid has said that the bill “was dead before it got to the Senate.” Still, proponents of drug-testing welfare patients worry that jobless Americans will use taxpayer dollars to purchase illicit drugs. Opponents challenge that drug testing is a costly and ineffective way to deter drug use, and they cite concerns about a strictly punitive law that would bar those in need from receiving jobless benefits without offering help in the form of counseling.
As Congress races to find common ground on the extension of unemployment benefits before the end of the year, drug testing the recipients of those benefits promises to be a topic ripe for compromise. Should welfare recipients be tested for drugs? Here’s the Debate Club’s take:
Jack Kingston U.S. Representative, Georgia's 1st District
David Vitter U.S. Senator, Louisiana