Paging the congressional ophthalmologist

Sometimes it all seems to come together in a perfect storm of bewildering congressional myopia. This seems like one of those times.

This weekend, as many as 236,300 Americans without work will lose their unemployment insurance as a consequence of the “compromise” that Congress passed in February to save the payroll tax cut and UI extension. This is on top of the estimated 173,000 of the jobless who already lost their benefits this year. Some will inevitably argue that this is a good thing because extending benefits keeps people from taking available jobs. This is a wildly deceptive claim. The research shows that in some cases, the availability of unemployment insurance allows people greater flexibility to find jobs that better match their skills, but it’s not causing anyone to give up work entirely. In fact, unemployment insurance keeps discouraged job seekers from giving up their search for work, and adds a meager source of income to those individuals who are the most likely to spend their income and bolster overall aggregate demand.

The real problem is that there simply are not enough available jobs. Yet, instead of strengthening programs that help these and other people still struggling in the wake of the Great Recession, the Republican-controlled House voted yesterday to slash $310 billion in funding for such programs to avoid the previously agreed-upon cuts to the defense budget. What’s perhaps most shocking about this vote is that it comes despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of Americans—both Democrats and Republicans—favors reductions in defense spending over cuts to other domestic programs.

Cutting important social protections and reducing assistance to people in need is only going to push more Americans into poverty. But in the cruelest of ironies, some members of Congress were not content with shooting America in the foot; they voted to blind her as well. On Wednesday night, House Republicans voted to defund the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, an incredibly powerful source of data for examining state and local economic trends, and one of the primary tools that the government uses to track poverty!

Some might argue that all of this constitutes the House’s attempt to commit the crime and then hide the evidence.  I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that it is just plain short-sightedness.