Down to the wire again as Congress, especially the GOP, play out their end of year game of threatening the unemployedwith benefits disruption. This was the same tactic used by the GOP in 2010. At that time they forced Obama to extend fiscally imprudent tax cuts for the wealthy by threatening to put an end to extended unemployment benefits. Obama gave the GOP a two year extension of those budget busting tax cuts and the GOP gave the unemployed, at least some of them, an extension of unemployment benefits.

The GOP is back threatening unemployed again, but this time they are also dragging along 160 million working Americans who would benefit from a continuation of a payroll tax reduction. Fortunately, the GOP is playing a much weaker hand this year and may have to fold to the pressures of the American electorate who not only want a payroll tax extension, but also want unemployment benefits extended.

Republicans won’t go quietly into the night without further disparaging the unemployed. Their version of the unemployment extension would promote drug testing the unemployed and it would cut benefit maximums to 79 weeks and then 59 weeks during the summer of 2012.

According to an Arthur Delaney article at Huffington Post, “What evidence do Republicans have that drug use is a problem among the unemployed? None that they’ve been willing to share. Ask a Republican politician’s staff for additional information on his or her anecdote about the stoned jobless, and they’ll tell you it’s just something they hear about all the time back in their districts, and you have to take their word for it.”

While there are anecdotal reports of drug use among some job seekers, there is no qualitative reason to believe that a large majority of unemployed are guilty of taking illegal drugs. Why didn’t any of these congressional puritans drug test the failed bank and corporate executives that they handed trillions of taxpayer dollars without any strings attached? The GOP must believe that the wealthy and connected are angels that are beyond temptation while the poor and financially strapped job seekers are devilish drug abusers.

While drug testing all unemployed is a lousy and expensive idea that should be abandoned immediately, it’s the fact that Republicans want to dramatically cut back on the maximum number of weeks that the unemployed can collect benefits in the face of an economy that still isn’t creating the jobs needed to employ millions of unemployed is appalling.

In an article from The Hill today, “Levin’s support for the two-month deal comes amid his concerns that some states, including his home state of Michigan, would lose upward of 20 weeks of federal extended benefits under the Senate’s short-term bill within the first few months of the year because it doesn’t include a provision to ensure they remain in place.“

So regardless of which bill passes – if a bill passes – some long-term unemployed in some states will lose benefits starting the beginning of 2012. Both parties have their hand in the unemployment cutback plan.

Benefits could be cut by as many as 20 weeks next year — in line with a 20-week cut mentioned by President Obama in his jobs bill, supporters have said.

A House-passed Republican plan called for cutting total benefits to79 weeks in January and eventually drop them to a maximum of 59 weeks.

Hundreds of thousands of unemployed will be affected by reduced weeks of benefits. While cutting the maximum number of weeks makes sense during a jobs expansion, that isn’t the case at this point and a recent Gallup poll confirms that point, “Underemployment, a measure that combines the percentage of workers who are unemployed with the percentage working part time but wanting full-time work, is 18.4% in mid-December, as measured by Gallup without seasonal adjustment. This is up slightly from 18.1% at the end of November and similar to the 18.5% of a year ago.”

It’s no wonder that Congress has a record low approval rating,“A new record-low 11% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, the lowest single rating in Gallup’s history of asking this question since 1974.” That rating is probably 10% too high, but it shows just how disenchanted Americans of all political stripes are with the political class.

Although the unemployed as a whole are being used as political pawns, they at least have the attentions of politicians and a nation looking for answers. Yet there is one group of unemployed that has been completely ignored of late, the unemployed who have exhausted all benefits – the 99ers. Over the past two years, millions of 99ers have not collected unemployment benefits or a paycheck. A recent Google search of news stories about 99ers produced this simple statement from the OC Register when discussing recent unemployment legislation, “There would be no additional benefits for the so-called 99ers, who have exhausted their 99 weeks.”

Congress and the president have purposely ignored the millions of 99ers for political reasons. Politicians such as Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and others who once pushed for 99er legislation have grown silent on the issue. And now it appears that the new 99ers will now be 79ers and possibly 59ers in the near future.

The fact remains that when you consider all under and unemployed, there are about 10 job seekers for each available full-time job opening. That is not a jobs situation that is the fault of the under and unemployed. It’s a situation where there are not enough jobs for those who want jobs.

The unemployed cannot depend on their elected representatives to act in their best interests, but they can depend on those same elected representatives continued criticism, belittlement and disregard. Let’s hope that Congress quickly comes to their senses and passes comprehensive legislation that doesn’t punish the unemployed.  Can Congress rise above it’s partisan bickering this holiday season of giving? Time will tell, but that time is short.

Happy holidays from the GOP! Mike Lukovich @gocomics.com

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