R.I.P, TANF EMERGENCY FUND…. Readers probably got tired of my reports on one of the most effective federal jobs programs in recent memory, but it was my hope the Senate would find a way to keep it alive. As usually happens when counting on the Senate, those hopes were in vain.
At issue is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Fund, which should have been one of the most popular programs in Congress. A key component of the Recovery Act, the fund subsidizes jobs with private companies, nonprofits, and government agencies, and has single handedly put more than 240,000 unemployed people back to work in 32 states and the District of Columbia.
Governors, including Mississippi’s Haley Barbour (R), have sung its praises, and urged its extension. In July, CNN called the TANF Emergency Fund “a stimulus program even a Republican can love.”
Except, Republicans didn’t love it. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) led the floor fight this week, and was even willing to accept a compromise: instead of a year-long extension that Democrats had requested, Durbin sought a three-month extension, at a cost of just $500 million, in order to keep the fund alive through the end of the year. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) refused to allow it.
“The majority has known this program was going to expire at the end of this month all year and has taken no steps to reauthorize this important social safety net program,” said Enzi, who blocked Durbin’s request for “unanimous consent” for a reauthorization.
Enzi either isn’t very bright or he hasn’t been paying attention. Dems first tried to reauthorize the TANF Emergency Fund in March, but Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) blocked it. Dems tried again earlier this month, but Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) blocked it. Dems tried again this week, but Enzi blocked it.
Regardless, what difference does it make when and how often it’s come up? If Enzi agrees that this is an “important social safety net program,” then why the hell did he feel it necessary to let it die?
This isn’t some academic exercise — by killing the measure, Republicans will force thousands of Americans out of work. The House approved an extension of the program (twice) but the Senate GOP just didn’t care. As a result, the TANF Emergency Fund comes to an end tonight at midnight. Thousands of layoffs will begin quickly, and continue as we get closer to the holiday season.
And we’ll once again face an ironic dynamic: Americans will get frustrated with Democrats over more job losses, instead of the Republicans responsible for killing an effective program that kept tens of thousands on the job.
Indeed, in a sane political world, the death of the TANF Emergency Fund would be a pretty big scandal, and Republicans would have been afraid to kill an effective jobs program with an unemployment rate near 10%. Instead, the GOP is counting on being rewarded by Americans for taking steps like these, and polls suggest that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
Republicans will keep asking, “Where are the jobs?” and no one seems inclined to answer, “Your party got rid of them.”