With our national debt at $13.2 trillion and climbing, the Senate last week inflated that number even further by refusing to pay for an extension of unemployment benefits. I voted against the bill because I will not contribute further to the runaway train of federal spending that has been tearing through Washington. Let me be clear: I know people are out of work, and I don't know a single Senator in Washington who didn't want to see these benefits extended. But unless we get serious about reining in our spending, our short-term unemployment problem will be just a fraction of a long-term financial nightmare.
Here's the big picture: the federal government has a $3.6 trillion budget, and the bill that just passed cost $34 billion – an amount easily paid for from within the massive budget. We tried three times in the Senate – three proposals, three votes – to cover the cost of the unemployment extension by eliminating some unobligated funds within the current budget. All three votes failed. Each year our country spends more than it earns by more than $1 trillion, our entitlement programs continue to expand, and yet the Senate is unwilling to reduce spending in order to fund these employment benefits.
Proponents of an unfunded unemployment extension have tried painting opposition to this bill in a negative light. This misses the mark – it fails to recognize our multiple attempts to pass these benefits, but pay for them. Nothing would have changed; beneficiaries would have seen identical benefits. The only difference: one would have had absolutely no impact on our national debt, while the other deducts $34 billion from our already overdrawn and nearly bankrupt federal checking account. Yet once again, a majority of the Senate decided that finding the money to pay for the bill was simply too difficult.
The unfunded bill will be beneficial for many in the short term, but in the long term it simply makes our debt problem that much worse. We currently run an annual deficit of $1.4 trillion, with no plan to start spending less than we have. And perhaps the thing most disappointing to me is that votes such as this, which should not be partisan, end up being split along party lines. Virtually everyone in the Senate supports extending benefits for those who have been laid off in a tough economy; and everyone recognizes the need to rein in the debt. Yet when the opportunity for action arose to actually pay for these benefits, the Senate split almost along party lines.
Because the majority of the Senate was unwilling to find the $34 billion, we've passed on another tough decision to future generations. At some point, our children or grandchildren will be left with the consequences of our lack of action. They'll have to tackle an even larger national debt. When they look back to this Congress and its refusal to pay for a record amount of spending, will they be thankful? I doubt it.