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Home Opinion Commentary Originally published December 23, 2013

Where Bipartisanship is Out of Order

by Julianne Malveaux

    Julianne Malveaux, President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C., is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. (Courtesy Photo)
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Former Kansas senator and 1996 Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole was recently presented with an award that is named after him. The World Food Program USA’s first George McGovern and Bob Dole Leadership Award, is named after him and his friend and colleague The two teamed up in the 1970s to make food stamps easier to get and use. Today, Republicans in Congress have been adamant that food stamps should be cut.

Dole, a conservative, and McGovern, a liberal, were not always on the same page about poverty, government programs, and food stamps. Were they both in the Senate now, they would likely share the commitment to reduce or eliminate hunger and yet they might not agree on how much should be spent on the challenge. But surely, neither would be of the mind to cut the food stamps program as significantly as the Republicans of the 113th Congress would like to cut them. The GOP plan wants reductions of at least $40 billion over 10 years, eliminating about 4 million families from the program. Bipartisan relationships like those that Senators Dole and McGovern shared are rare these days because party lines have been so tightly drawn.

Thus, while some will celebrate the budget proposal of Sen. Patti Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that will prevent future government shutdowns (that is, as long as there is agreement on debt ceiling), I am among those that decry the hollow victory in the passage of this budget. It is better than nothing, but still quite disgraceful.

While the food stamp program was once paired with the Farm Bill in a way to create a “something for everyone” bipartisan approach, the uncoupled two bills allow farmers to gain while hungry people don’t. Still, failure to adjust aspects of the farm bill may cause milk prices to rise before Congress returns to work in January. No matter. Republicans in Congress seem to subscribe to the Marie Antoinette theory of food distribution: “Let them eat cake.” No worries for the hungry or the poor. They just, says Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) “have to get a job.”

While budget-lite passed, the unemployment insurance extension did not. On Dec. 28, 1.3 million long-term unemployed people will collect their last check unless new legislation is passed in January. Congress says it “might” look at retroactive benefits. Paul apparently does not read the monthly employment situation, released last week by the Labor Department.

While it indicated that the unemployment rate dropped to 7 percent in November, it also reported that more than 4 million people have been unemployed for more than half a year. Additionally, the alternative measures of unemployment, which include part time and discouraged workers, suggest that real unemployment is 13.2 percent (and 25 percent for African Americans). Where are these unemployed people supposed to find jobs when the federal government has removed itself from the job creation business even as our infrastructure continues to fray?

The unemployment insurance extension would cost $26 billion for two years. Budget balancers say that’s too much and pushes the federal budget into further deficit. The unwillingness to assist those considered “collateral damage” in our broken economy has less to do with fiscal responsibility than with the “get a job, let them eat cake” mentality embraced by so many tea party Republicans.

To fully applaud the Murray/Paul budget is like applauding people for saying hello. It is a tenuous bipartisanship, a compromise achieved on the backs of the hungry and the unemployed. The Murray/Paul budget is an example of the devolution of bipartisanship from the days when two men reached across the aisle to figure out how to reduce the amount of food insecurity in our nation.

Julianne Malveaux, President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C., is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer.



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