Earlier today, the Senate and the House passed a bill that would give the new government in Ukraine $1 billion in loans and $100 million in direct aid. Today’s vote came just a day after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that he would drop controversial IMF reforms from the Ukraine aid bill, guaranteeing Republican support. Ukraine’s new government has been in power a little over a month, and now it’s secured itself a nice little lifeline from Washington. That was fast.
Meanwhile, more than 2 million jobless Americans are still struggling to pay their bills after losing their unemployment benefits three months ago at the end of December. Sure, a group of Senators have agreed to a plan to extend unemployment benefits by another five months, but there’s really no guarantee that Republicans in the House will, you know, do their job and pass that extension.
Those Republicans are apparently all for forking over billions of dollars to an unelected government in Ukraine, but when it comes to helping out unemployed Americans, they’re suddenly up in arms screaming about the debt and the deficit. If you think this is insane, you’re not alone.
If Republicans in Congress were as committed to helping out Americans as they are to helping out the Ukrainian government, they would have extended unemployment insurance months ago. But instead, they’ve blocked extension at every chance they’ve had. And, of course there’s still a very good chance that they’ll block it once again when it comes up for a vote sometime in the next few weeks.
Republican obstruction looks even more ridiculous when you remember that those 2 million jobless people who are still without benefits paid into the unemployment insurance throughout their adult working lives. By refusing unemployment insurance, Republicans, have, in effect, said to 2 million Americans, “No, you can’t have your money back.”
Congress’ schizophrenic attitude towards Ukraine aid and jobless benefits is just one example of much bigger sickness festering in our political system right now. When it comes to helping out giant transnational corporations, the military-industrial complex, or America’s foreign policy interests, Congress will do their bidding at the drop of a hat. But when it comes to helping out every day Americans by doing things like extending unemployment benefits, suddenly Congress can’t do its job and there’s gridlock.
Former GOP congressional staffer Mike Lofgren talked about this on a recent episode of “Moyers & Company,” pointing out that this gridlock helps keep what he called America’s “deep state” in power. The preamble to our Constitution does not say that our government exists to promote the “general Welfare” of private corporations, standing armies, foreign governments, or Ukrainians. The preamble to our Constitution says that our government exists to promote the “general Welfare” of “We the People.”
It’s time for our elected representatives to start following the principles laid out in our Constitution and help everyday Americans struggling to make ends meet. A great first step would be to extend unemployment insurance right away. But one piece of legislation isn’t enough. In the long term, Congress needs to totally rethink its priorities and start, as Merle Haggard says, putting America first.