A safety net for the rich?

Misplaced anger alert: Sen. Tom Coburn is upset that a handful of millionaires are getting unemployment benefits

Published October 2, 2012 5:40PM (EDT)

Tom Coburn           (AP/Sue Ogrocki)
Tom Coburn (AP/Sue Ogrocki)

The headline is guaranteed to annoy everyone: "Almost 2,400 Millionaires Pocketed Unemployment Benefits." Sen. Tom Coburn's opinion seems inarguable: "Sending millionaires unemployment checks is a case study in out-of-control spending.” The notion, expressed by Bloomberg reporter Frank Bass, that "eliminating those payments to high earners is one idea being considered as U.S. lawmakers struggle to curb a projected $1.1 trillion deficit," appears to make total sense.

And then you read this line:

"Eliminating the federal share of unemployment benefits for millionaires would save $20 million in the next decade, the congressional researchers said in their report."

$20 million in a decade! That's 2 whole million dollars a year. Or about .0002 percent of a $1.1 trillion deficit.

Don't get me wrong -- I am sure there are people who have lost their jobs but still have enough net worth to live comfortably who don't need or necessarily deserve unemployment benefits. And every dollar counts when cutting spending. But the idea, as Coburn puts it, that this particular atrocity is an example of "providing welfare to the wealthy ... [that] undermines the program for those who need it most while burdening future generations with senseless debt,” is just silly --  an awesome example of misplaced priorities.

You want to know what undermines the social welfare net? Corporations like General Electric getting away with paying zero income taxes in 2010 while pulling in $10.5 billion worth of net profits. Or how about the cost of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans, estimated at around $11.6 million an hour -- every hour, every day! That's right, in the time it will take to write and publish this blog post, the Bush tax cuts for the rich will cost our country more than unemployment benefits for millionaires will cost in 10 years.

Excesses in our underfunded safety net are not the problem. Tax breaks for the rich and corporations are the real killer.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Business Safety Net Social Welfare Tom Coburn Unemployment