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GOP Again Holds Working America Hostage to its Perverse Ideological Priorities

Though Congress has averted government shutdown, working people and the unemployed are still waiting for help.

Despite a late-night deal to avert a government shutdown, John Boehner and House Republicans are still basically holding the American economy hostage. The $1 trillion spending deal late Thursday evening doesn't change the fact that they passed a bill out of the House to extend a payroll tax break and unemployment insurance for millions of Americans whose benefits are set to run out that's loaded with “poison pills” – items long on the right's wish-list that the Democrat-controlled Senate has made clear would be dead on arrival in the upper chamber.

The Republicans' bill, H.R. 3630, dubbed the “Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2011,” would do anything but create jobs. The only job it seems concerned with is the temporary construction work that would go into the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline, which would bring oil from the Canadian tar sands – oil that is extremely destructive to extract – to the West Coast.

The Obama administration stalled the project over concerns that it would have significant impacts on the environment. (The thousands of protesters carrying out dramatic acts of civil disobedience didn't hurt either.) The Republican bill would force immediate approval of the pipeline despite the State Department's decision to delay construction until it can properly consider the environmental impact.

Other than that, the GOP's bill seems far more interested in taking whacks at the already-unemployed than trying to put them to work. Siddhartha Mahanta at Mother Jones explains:

Under current law, unemployed workers are eligible for up to 99 weeks of federal and state unemployment benefits. States pay for the first 26 weeks of those benefits, and the federal government foots the bill for between 34 and 73 more—the exact number varies from state to state based on each state's unemployment rate. If the Republicans get their way, workers who use up their 26 weeks  would only be able to receive benefits through week 59—reducing their benefits by up to 40 weeks. The GOP bill also reduces the monetary value of the benefits it does provide.

But cutting benefits—and kicking the economy when it's down, as losing benefits would cut those unemployed folks' ability to spend money to the tune of about $22 billion—isn't enough. They also want to impose harsh punitive measures on benefit seekers, requiring all those who receive unemployment checks to hold high school diplomas or GEDs (no offers to fix crumbling public schools or pay for GED programs are on offer, obviously) and to submit to drug-testing.

Karen Nussbaum, executive director of Working America, told AlterNet, “People don't know how to make sense of what's happened to them and to tell them that they don't deserve unemployment, they ask, 'What am I supposed to do? Should I try to get my house foreclosed right now and try to find a relative to live with?' The disruption it's creating in communities is unconscionable. It's inhuman, it's bad economics, and it's disrupting the fabric of the nation.”

Florida, which passed a requirement that benefit recipients must pass a drug test, found that only 2 percent of the state's poor actually turn up positive. That means the state has to reimburse thousands of people for the cost of their clean drug tests. Of course, the real goal of the policy isn't to catch drug users—it's to scare people who might possibly test positive away from applying for benefits in the first place, as well as to remind those who need help from the state that they surrender their privacy and rights when they fall on hard times. It reinforces the idea that you deserve what you get.

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