What a lousy Christmas present.
On Dec. 28, three days after the celebration of a man famous for helping the downtrodden, Republican scrooges and Democratic stooges in Congress will hand 800,000 Americans something far worse than a lump of coal: an end to unemployment benefits the Senate had earlier voted to extend.
Affected parents are now likely to spend the holidays putting on a brave face for the kids, wondering how they're going to pay the rent come New Year's Day.
An additional 90,000 unemployed workers will lose their benefits in each subsequent week of 2003 because the Republican leadership of the House refused to back an extension. This was too much even for Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who said: "It's unconscionable for us to leave town without fixing unemployment compensation. The political symbolism of it is just horrendous."
Neither harsh reality nor "political symbolism," however, moved President Bush to intervene. For all of Bush's crocodile tears about those who suffered the loss of jobs in an economy soured by a burst stock market bubble, terrorist attacks and corporate scandals, he did nothing to ease the burden on unemployed workers. To be charitable, it is possible that the president does not know what an unemployment check is, or why the failure to receive one in the dead of winter could harm a family's values -- like the value of keeping the heat on or having a roof over one's head.
Evidently, there is only so much compassionate conservative spirit to spread around, and most of it has been reserved for welfare-addicted basket cases such as the insurance and airline industries. Now it is the giant drug companies that have received a holiday bonus.
The pharmaceuticals earn huge profits from government-granted drug patents but evidently will not produce new vaccines for the public's security unless they are guaranteed a risk-free environment. Thanks to a provision tacked onto the homeland security bill, they are now inoculated against responsibility for injuries or deaths caused by vaccinations, whether given in the past or the future.
We need a Charles Dickens to capture the heartlessness of Bush economics, but in his stead we'll quote Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis.: "I find it outrageous that the Congress is going to find room in its heart to help the poor, downtrodden drug companies but will not find room in their hearts to deal with the problems of the long-term unemployed."
Outrageous, but not surprising. The unemployed don't have much to give in campaign contributions, while the drug companies stuffed most of their $30 million in donations into Republican stockings during the last electoral go-around.
The White House does have something to offer those struggling during this tepid "jobless recovery" -- the siren songs of patriotism, whose sweet notes overwhelm the sour tastes of raw fear and material insecurity left in the wake of recession and terrorist attacks.
Whenever the drums of war beat loudest, ordinary people accept economic deprivation while the rich find ways to further enrich themselves. Not that they'll have to look very hard.
While denying a few hundred bucks to unemployed workers, the Bush Republicans are still moving aggressively to extend and make permanent their budget-busting 2001 tax cut for the rich and to eliminate the inheritance tax, thereby widening the gap between haves and have-nots.
When asked by a Los Angeles Times reporter how he could explain tax cuts for the rich to an unemployed worker, Specter, a GOP stalwart, bravely broke ranks long enough to reply, "I'm going to say to him, 'We did you wrong.'"
The senator shouldn't sound so surprised. The Republicans are simply being consistent, and the results are predictable. The rich get richer, while the middle class steadily erodes as solid jobs are lost to cheap labor abroad, whose docility is guaranteed by friendly dictatorships backed by American firepower.
Wrap this rip-off in the cloak of God and country, and it apparently sells, as the last election demonstrated. Doesn't it mock the spirit of Christ -- which the powerful conservative Christians in the GOP publicly claim informs their every decision -- to so blatantly betray the needy as we celebrate a savior of the poor?