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July 20, 2010

Benefit vs. Deficit: The Jobless Benefits Debate

Senate Republicans and Democrats are locked in a fierce battle over whether to, once again, pass a bill to extend jobless benefits to millions of out-of-work Americans. Since the economic downturn in 2008, a record number of Americans have relied on monthly payments from the government to keep them afloat while they look for work.

Republicans insist that the jobless benefits shouldn’t be passed unless the money used to pay for them is taken from somewhere else in the federal budget, instead of borrowing it and adding to the country’s debt. Democrats say the benefits are needed to keep the economy going, since benefit recipients will spend the money and give a boost to businesses.

Democrats are expected to be able to pass the legislation soon, since a new Democratic senator is being sworn in to replace the late Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia who passed away recently. The new senator will likely give Democrats 60 votes — what they need to prevent a Republican filibuster of the jobless benefits bill.

The first 1:40 of this video provides an overview of the fight over the benefits bill; the rest features a conversation about the bill with two political analysts.


“After years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, the same people who didn’t have any problems spending hundreds of billions of dollars on tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are now saying we shouldn’t offer relief to middle-class Americans…who really need help.” – President Barack Obama

“We’re all for extending unemployment insurance. The question is, when are we going get serious… about the debt?” – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

“The people that the president pointed to today are not those who have taken the benefits and sat back and enjoyed them. They are all actively seeking jobs, and, in these cases, have not been able to find even an interview.” – Norman Ornstein, American Enterprise Institute

“Poll after poll shows that the American electorate has somewhat bought into the Republican concern of debt and deficit. It is their main calling card this election season. They don’t want to say they are opposed to extending unemployment benefits, but they are saying the president should have to pay for it. And they think that resonates with voters.” – David Chalian, NewsHour political editor

Warm Up Questions

1. What is debt?

2. What does it mean when a government is in debt? Who is it in debt to?

3. Where does our government get its money from?

Discussion Questions

1. Do you know anyone who relies on benefits from the government to get by? Do you think those benefits are necessary for them? Why or why not?

2. Democrats argue that benefits are good because they put money back into the economy. Explain how this works. How could the economy get a boost from more people having more money?

3. Republicans say the jobless benefits need to be “paid for” before they will agree to pass them. Where would the money come from to pay for them?

4. What do you think? Should the government borrow more money to pay for unemployment benefits? Why or why not?

Additional Resources

Video Transcript

NewsHour Politics Coverage

Financial Reform Law Aims to Prevent Next Economic Crash

Unemployment Benefits in Jeopardy

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