The Senate's 60-37 motion to proceed on S.1845, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act is a good sign, regardless of the fact that it took three weeks to get to this point, that a House version of the bill is collecting dust and that 70 percent of the public favors the measure.
It keeps negotiations moving forward, and gives the nation's 1.3 million long-term unemployed some hope that they they'll be able to pay rent and buy food this month. Contrary to Sen. Rand Paul's intimations, these people are not sitting around all day eating bonbons and watching "The Price is Right."
Tempering this hope, however, is that a bill probably won't end up on the president's desk. House Republicans won't consider extending unemployment unless Democrats, who at present refuse, agree to spending cuts on other programs.
In principle, the GOP's rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul approach makes sense. The government is running a high deficit, and because of sequestration, a lot of other government programs accepted cutbacks last year. The exigency of the matter, on the other hand, dictates that Congress act now: Pass the bill this week and spend the next few months working on a long-term plan to cut government spending.
Shrinking the size of government is a must, but Congress has been aware of this since 2008, and they've had sound, comprehensive proposal on the table since 2010: the Simpson-Bowles plan.
If Congress is in fact committed to cutting government spending, then the bipartisan win/win is to pass the extension and put Simpson-Bowles back on the table. Not play politics to win election year favor from Heritage Action and other special interests that have no concept of what it's like to barely get buy while spending months trying to find a job.
Simpson-Bowles would reduce government debt 60 percent by 2023. It would reform the tax code, cut discretionary spending and lower the corporate tax rate to 26 percent. It would also switch the calculation of government benefits to chained CPI, a more efficient way to index spending and taxes to inflation.
Simpson-Bowles is a well-thought out, sound proposal. Alas, many in Congress, who are now opposed to extending unemployment, pooh-poohed it because of their loyalties to special interests. Heritage Action and others killed it before the ink dried.
The $26 billion cost to extend unemployment for a year is a drop in the bucket compared to the savings Congress would reap if it fried the bigger fish. But to do so, our legislators will need to stop sitting around all day eating expensive snacks and watching each other on C-SPAN give speeches to empty rooms – two things that are about as likely as Cookie Monster giving up cookies.
Corrected 1/13/14: A previous version of this post misstated the amount of spending cuts Republicans want to offset an extension of unemployment insurance. It has also been amended to clarify the amount of time unemployment will be extended.