Jobless aid on the line

House Republicans said last week they’ll consider an extension of the payroll tax break, but Democrats have to accept a fairly long list of conditions. The one that got most attention was the demand that the Keystone XL pipeline be approved, but the changes to unemployment benefits are arguably the most extraordinary.

Republican officials, well aware of the jobs crisis, want to sharply reduce the length of time jobless workers can be eligible for unemployment benefits, while also requiring those who lack high-school degrees to enroll in GED programs and allowing states to impose drug-testing requirements on anyone who loses their job.

Jared Bernstein marveled at the Republican agenda.

I suspect that you, like me, agree that people should have at least a high school degree and not take drugs. But don’t the long-term unemployed have enough problems without this kind of harassment and political grandstanding?

The whole thing makes no sense. The conservative meme about UI allowing unemployed people to scoff at all the available jobs out there is belied by the fact that there are four job seekers per job opening. Under such demand constrained conditions, conservatives, including Alan Greenspan, have typically supported UI extensions. In fact, we’ve never failed to extend with the jobless rate this high.

It’s bad for families who need the money, and it’s bad for the macro economy, since they spend the money. I mean, who’d want to both hurt out-of-work families and further restrain the recovery? Why would anyone want to do that??!!

Oh … right … never mind.

That last line was of particular interest, because it links to a piece noting Republican leaders who’ve openly admitted that they prioritize defeating President Obama above literally any other consideration. Bernstein, in other words, is implicitly lending credence to the “sabotage” question, which has steadily gained traction in recent months.

Indeed, Bernstein, a mild-mannered economist who recently concluded a very successful stint in Vice President Biden’s office, is suggesting that GOP leaders are deliberately hurting the economy and undermining the interests of struggling families, simply to advance a campaign agenda.

That’s no small accusation, and it’s one that is bolstered by ample evidence.