Political Games: Holding the Unemployed Hostage

By Richard Thayer

I had to read it twice.

The headline blared: “Governor Beverly Perdue vetoes bill extending unemployment benefits for laid off workers.”

I was a tad dismayed at first. Governor Perdue has vetoed a bill that would give financial aid to the unemployed? This doesn’t sound like the Beverly Perdue I know.

Then I read below the headline and the first paragraph gave me the additional information I needed.

What the headline didn’t say was why the governor had vetoed such a bill. If the writer’s intent was to get me to read the article, they succeeded.

The original bill would have extended unemployment benefits to 37,000 of our state’s unemployed by an additional 20 weeks. That was the original bill. Not complicated. We still have 9.7 percent unemployment in the state and over 37,000 of these folks’ financial assistance is due to run out soon and they need an extension if they are going to continue to put food on the table, a roof over their heads, etc. Pass the bill and those benefits give those people some breathing room. Don’t pass the bill and they suffocate. Pretty straight forward.

But the Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly saw an opportunity to play politics with the bill (as many of their brethren in other states are doing) and attached a provision that had absolutely nothing to do with the original bill. The attached legislation, if passed, would have cut the 2011-2012 state budget by 13 percent. And by so doing, would have frozen pay increases for public workers while increasing their contributions to their pension plans, among other things.

Sound familiar?

Basically what the bill did was hold the 37,000 unemployed workers hostage. The Republicans message: Pass the bill and we will allow you to extend unemployment benefits. Veto the bill and those 37,000 laid off workers will have to suffer the consequences.

This is commonly known as being caught between a rock and a hard place.

Just as we do with common terrorists who want ransom for hostages, the governor said, “No deal.”

Actually, she said more than “no deal.” In her April 16 response to the Republicans game plan she wrote:

“(Those who attached this bill to the original) should be ashamed…who for weeks have had a clean bill to continue unemployment benefits. They did nothing. Thirty-seven thousand people will suffer an end to their benefits for one simple reason: Republican leaders are more interested in winning than in doing what’s right….If the governor signed the bill, the door would open for thousands of teachers to lose their jobs. Children would lose health services. Mentally ill would have even fewer places to go for help. Public safety services would weaken. North Carolina would be set back decades. This is the time for leadership, not games.”

What is happening in North Carolina seems to be a widespread phenomena of epidemic proportions all over the country as conservative politicians continue to play political games with people’s lives.

To contact your member of the North Carolina General Assembly and tell them to stop these games, go here.


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