Friday, June 25, 2010

Lock Up The Unemployed!

As we all are aware,

Republicans on Thursday defeated Democrats’ showcase election-year jobs bill, including an extension of weekly unemployment benefits for millions of people out of work more than six months.

The 57-41 vote fell three votes short of the 60 required to crack a GOP filibuster, delivering a major blow to President Barack Obama and Democrats facing big losses of House and Senate seats in the fall election.

The rejected bill would also have provided $16 billion in new aid to states, preserving the jobs of thousands of state and local government workers and providing what White House officials called an insurance policy against a double-dip recession. It also included dozens of tax breaks sought by business lobbyists, and tax increases on domestically produced oil and on investment fund managers.

The demise of the bill means that unemployment benefits will phase out for more than 200,000 people a week. Governors who had been counting on federal aid will now have to consider a fresh round of budget cuts, tax hikes and layoffs of state workers.

Thursday night, Rachel Maddow effectively summarized (transcript here; video below) the implications of the defeat of the legislation, as well as the nature of the GOP opposition. Included in comments by Republicans disdainful of the American worker was one in which Utah Senator Orrin Hatch sarcastically remarked

You know, we should be giving people cash who… who basically are just going to blow it on drugs.

Maddow added "Senator Hatch actually proposed an amendment to the jobs bill earlier this month, to force anyone getting unemployment benefits to submit to a drug test, because, you know, land of the free and all that. Now pee in this cup."

Aside from holding a contemptuous attitude toward unemployed workers, Hatch must have forgotten that he is supposed to be against big government. Back in March, he told CNN's Campbell Brown "Those on the other (conservative side of the health care debate, of whom he was one) feel deeply about the big spending, big government, big controls, and, of course, some of the provisions of this -- of these two bills."

Yet, Hatch apparently wants to jack up the size of the federal government, and increase its costs, by establishing a whole new function- testing applicants for unemployed benefits. Or perhaps he wants the state government to fund the entire procedure because, after all, what the 50 states need more than ever now is another unfunded mandate. Drug testing is, of course, more than drug testing. It is training employeees for the procedure, setting up an appointment for (presumably) urinalysis, administering the test (in-house or contracted out), evaluating the results, and taking the action prompted by the results.

The action prompted by the results gets into real money. When, as is inevitable, people start testing positive for illegal drugs, law enforcement will need to be notified and can hardly turn a blind eye to a violation of criminal law. And what this country needs more than anything is more citizens incarcerated for non-violent offenses, at least victimless crimes. (Yes, drug possession is victimless. Some people argue otherwise. They would be wrong.) Among steps taken by states to reduce expenditures on criminal justice and hold their budgets in check, according to USA Today in March, 2009, were:

• A California panel of federal judges recommended last month that the cash-strapped state release up to 57,000 non-violent inmates from the overcrowded system to help save $800 million.

• Kentucky officials last year allowed for the early release of non-violent offenders up to six months before their sentences end to serve the balance of their time at home.

The budget crunch in most states, and thus consideration of drastic measures to reduce costs, has only intensified in the last sixteen months. And Orrin Hatch wants to find men and women who have lost their jobs and use illegal drugs so that they can be denied benefits and, unavoidably, prosecuted.

Some Republicans will go to great lengths to bar the American people from helping Americans who are down-and-out.

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