Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Democrats' Conflicting Priorities

The Senate's failure to extend long-term jobless benefits is a potential political double whammy for Democrats - by trying to pass it, they gave Republicans yet one more hammer with which to beat them on the increasingly germane issue of deficit spending, and by failing to do so they've fed the narrative that they're a bunch of bickering incompetents who can't stop grandstanding and backbiting long enough to solve the country's economic problems despite historically large majorities in both houses of Congress. I'm not sure the latter criticism is fair, but I have little sympathy for them - when you sell yourselves as the party of bigger government, and promise voters that bigger government will help solve their problems, you're going to get blamed on those occasions when it fails to do.

Spending on things like employment benefits does ease the suffering of ordinary people during hard times, but it won't end a recession. You need sound economic fundamentals for that. And much of the rest of the Democrats' agenda - e.g. cap and trade - is going to harm economic fundamentals, at least in the short term. Perhaps climate change is enough of a threat that the tradeoff is worth it. I don't know. But the fact is that many of the Democrats' policy priorities are very likely to prolong the economic slump, dent job growth and keep the long-term unemployed, well, unemployed. Given that we can't afford to extend unemployment benefits indefinitely, papering over that problem by giving them money was never going to fly forever. And lo and behold, it hasn't.

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