A little more than a week ago, the Senate was one vote short of passing a three-month extension of help for people who have been out of work for a long time.
From the New York Times:
Republicans and Democrats, many of whom come from the poorest states in the country, have been trying to find a way for people who have used up their unemployment benefits to keep getting them as long as the government pays for the $6 billion cost.
In the end, senators could not pass the bill because they couldn’t figure out how to pay for it.
Helping people who have been out of work for a long time is sure to come up again. And with it, the question of how to pay for it will come up again.
Many Democrats don’t like the idea that reducing unemployment benefits should be paid for by cutting spending elsewhere. But in practice, Senate Democrats have already conceded this point, and it’s not likely that they will take it back. Even if they did try to take it back, a bill to extend unemployment benefits needs five Republican senators and then has to pass the Republican House. So, in the future that we can see, there will need to be a trade-off for any chance of extending unemployment benefits or getting them on the table for serious discussion.
As luck would have it, there is $6 billion in free money on the table right now that is about to be wasted and could be used as a down payment for something good.
It’s in the “Overseas and Contingency Operations” (OCO) budget, which is the war budget. There is currently $5.7 billion in OCO that doesn’t belong there. If it isn’t moved to a more proper place, it will be wasted on Pentagon contractor pork that the Pentagon doesn’t need.
On January 17, 2014, the American Society of Military Comptrollers said:
Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) get $85.2 billion from the [FY2014 Omnibus Appropriations] bill, which is $5.7 billion more than the [president] asked for. Most of this change comes from the $8.5 billion that was moved from the base budget to the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund, which was partially offset by a $3 billion cut to the request for that fund.
Congress added $8.5 billion to the budget for the war that the president did not ask for. By moving $8.5 billion from the base Pentagon budget to the war budget, Congress was able to keep Pentagon contractors from losing $8.5 billion.
So, according to Washington, the war budget can be cut by $6 billion (or even $8.5 billion) without affecting the Afghanistan war. This is because the war budget includes (at least) $6 billion, which has nothing to do with the Afghanistan war.
Now, it would be a great idea to cut the money spent on the Afghanistan war. Every month that we keep 12,000 more troops in Afghanistan, we throw away a billion dollars. People in Washington who want us to believe they are very worried about the national debt won’t talk about the money we flush down the toilet every month in Afghanistan. This is one of the worst things about Washington. If 12,000 troops were pulled out of Afghanistan for six months, that money could be used to keep unemployment benefits going for longer.
But we have to start somewhere if we want to cut the money spent on war. And a good way to start cutting the war budget is to cut the money in the war budget that was put there for Pentagon contractor pork that has nothing to do with the war.
We could ask Congress to cut the war budget, but all they would have to do is reverse their decision to add $5.7 billion to the war budget that the president didn’t even ask for. But this request doesn’t have much power because it doesn’t come from a specific group. Instead, it comes from the general public. The only practical way to get that $5.8 billion out of the war budget is to put it toward something useful that many people can enjoy. Why not use it to help people who have been out of work for a long time?
The Times said the following about the Senate’s refusal to extend unemployment aid:
[Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid] said that Democrats would keep trying to get the benefits extended. The benefits ran out at the end of last year, leaving more than 1.3 million Americans without help. Since then, that number has grown to over 1.7 million.
So, 1.7 million Americans would get help right away if $5.7 billion of Pentagon contractor pork were moved from the war budget to help people who are out of work. What if 1.7 million Americans, their families, friends, and neighbors told Congress, “Bring back help for the long-term unemployed and take the money from the Pentagon contractor pork in the war budget”?