Selective interest in the deficit

SELECTIVE INTEREST IN THE DEFICIT…. The death of the TANF emergency fund was awful enough, but there was another jobs-related effort in the Senate yesterday that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Just hours before adjourning, Democrats pushed a long-sought measure on extensions of long-term unemployment insurance. It didn’t go well.

The unemployment insurance extension would’ve made it possible for jobless workers in states with high unemployment to collect 119 weeks of benefits. The current cut-off point is 99 weeks, the most in recent history. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) had for months pushed to add another 20 weeks onto the available 99 in states with 7.5 percent unemployment or higher. Joining her in demanding more relief for jobless workers were the “99ers,” those out of work Americans who’ve exhausted all of their support funds and now have no safety net at all. But it was Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fl.) who stood in their way.

This didn’t come as a surprise, of course. But in explaining himself, LeMieux said that “all” senators are “certainly sympathetic” towards those who’ve been out of work for so long, but the country can’t “put this debt on our children and grandchildren.”

He added, “Now, if we could only vote on $700 billion in deficit-financed tax cuts for millionaires….”

OK, I made up that second quote, but the point is the same. LeMieux cited the deficit in blocking on extensions of long-term unemployment aid, but couldn’t care less about the deficit when it comes to tax breaks — which don’t help the economy anyway — for millionaires and billionaires.

In other words, the deficit matters when it comes to helping those struggling to get by. The deficit doesn’t matter all when it comes to lavishing even more tax breaks on the rich.

Stabenow replied, “The reality for us in America is that we will never get out of debt with more than 15 million people out of work.”

That kind of reasonable, accurate argument clearly has no place in our contemporary discourse.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.