If you’re still out of work, good luck

The discretionary portion of the federal budget accounts for a small fraction of  the national government’s annual spending. Most of the spending is for Social Security, Medicare and interest on the national debt.

There isn’t much discussion under way, at least in the public eye, on those big challenges; what suggestions have come forth have been shot down by both parties in Congress.

The budget compromise achieved this month in the House and Senate deals with discretionary items. On the income side it modestly raises some fees. But there are no tax increases included, despite the widening gap between rich and poor.

Republicans complain that the deal does not reduce the federal debt, and only marginally the level of annual deficits.

That’s true — but the unwillingness of either Republicans or Democrats to tackle entitlements like Social Security and Medicare is the real problem.

If you’re serious about reducing debt and deficits, then summon some political courage and take on those problems, at the risk of losing support from your base.

What Congress apparently did through the compromise was to avoid another government shutdown, at least for a couple of years. That’s a good thing. But to get to that goal, the compromise came down hard on one of the most vulnerable groups in the nation: the unemployed.

And if House conservatives get their way, those who are out of work may get hit with another whammy — reductions to the food stamp program.

The budget compromise eliminates jobless benefits for those who have been out of work for longer than six months.

For every available job in the nation, there are currently several unemployed Americans. Even if we were at full employment, millions would still be out of work.

Congress has been unwilling to provide public sector jobs to help out — to the contrary, public employment has been reduced. It’s unclear how the long-term unemployed will sustain themselves and their families after the compromise goes into effect.

At present, at least, they can still rely on food stamps through the so-called SNAP federal food program. But SNAP is housed in the Farm Bill, which is expiring.

The farm bill renewal approved by the House sharply cuts food stamps by $4 billion a year. The Senate bill also reduces SNAP, but by “only” one-tenth as much ($400 million annually). Where the final agreement will settle is unknown.

So if you’ve been out of work for half a year or more, good luck, and Merry Christmas.

How does that Christmas carol go — “Peace on Earth, good will toward men”?

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