Media: GOP Blocked Unemployment Bill to Hurt Economy Before Midterm Elections

June 26th, 2010 11:02 AM

On Thursday, a new unemployment bill died in Congress as Senator Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) joined Republicans on the grounds that government spending can't go on forever.

Instead of reporting both sides, the media couldn't seem to hide their anger.

The bill was called a "jobless aid" package that "governors were counting on" to help "the poor" across the nation. Almost all news reports began from the Democrat perspective and waited several paragraphs before weakly defending Republicans.

Worse yet, a consensus with far more damaging impact began to grow: the loss will cause the nation's economy to fall into a double dip recession, and it will be entirely the Republicans' fault.

Never mind last year's stimulus bill worth $700 billion, or the bank bailout of 2008, both of which have failed to live up to promises of recovery. No, our economy is suffering because fiscal conservatives won't spend even more.

The Seattle Times was quick on the draw Thursday night with a clearly disappointed report headlined "Republicans Continue Blockade of Federal Aid Bill." What followed was an obviously biased effort to paint Republicans in a bad light:

Senate Republicans on Thursday once again blocked legislation to reinstate long-term unemployment benefits for people who have exhausted their aid.

With the Senate apparently paralyzed by partisan gridlock, the fate of the aid, as well as tax breaks for businesses and $16 billion in aid for cash-strapped states, remains unclear. Dozens of states, including Washington, are hoping for federal aid to help balance their budgets.

Republican lawmakers - joined by Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska - maintained a unified front to sustain a filibuster of the $110 billion bill. The vote was 57-41, three short of the 60 needed to cut off debate and bring the bill to a final vote.

Democrats said they would give no further ground and put the onus on Republicans to make concessions.

Those who have "exhausted their aid" are the long-term unemployed who received financial assistance for up to 99 weeks already. Republicans seem to have this crazy notion that receiving government assistance that long might be long enough, and perhaps it's time to start asking if Keynesian economics is working.

But according to the Seattle Times, that kind of talk is just "partisan gridlock." The article quoted one Republican against three Democrats and never got any deeper than vague concerns about the national debt.

Toward the end, the Times went to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs to imply that Republicans were sabotaging the economy:

In a statement, the White House vowed to keep pushing for the bill. "The president has been clear: Americans should not fall victim to Republican obstruction at a time of great economic challenge for our nation's families," spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

By Friday morning, this became the battle cry for reporters around the country. Reuters published an article that advanced the point in plainer terms:

The bill, which also would have provided more aid to cash-strapped states for the Medicaid health program for the poor, fell a few votes short of the 60 needed to advance in the 100-member Senate. One Democrat, Ben Nelson, joined 40 Republicans to block the measure.

Democrats argued that the bill would have helped shore up the fragile U.S. economic recovery, a priority for President Barack Obama's administration.

Yes, saving the economy has been one of President Obama's priorities for some time now, mostly because nothing he does seems to save it. But Reuters didn't have time to mention an inconvenient thing like that. Readers were expected to believe the premise that one more spending bill would have shored up the economy if not for those meddling Republicans.

A few hours later, the Associated Press got involved with an even sharper accusation aimed directly at Republicans:

The rejected bill would have provided $16 billion in new aid to states, preserving the jobs of thousands of state and local government workers and providing what White House officials called an insurance policy against a double-dip recession. It also included dozens of tax breaks sought by business lobbyists and tax increases on domestically produced oil and on investment fund managers.

"This is a bill that would remedy serious challenges that American families face as a result of this Great Recession," said Max Baucus, D-Mont., the chief author of the bill. "This is a bill that works to build a stronger economy. This is a bill to put Americans back to work."

How strange that quote didn't show up in the early dispatches Thursday night. It's almost as if the media spent Friday collectively drifting toward a good narrative.

By 4:00 Friday, the economy-sabotage angle was official. The Washington Post's Greg Sargent used the Plum Line blog for the announcement:

A number of bloggers today have been up in arms about the apparent failure of the jobs bill in the Senate, now that it looks like no Republicans will help Dems break the GOP filibuster.

This could have terrible consequences, and Senator Debbie Stabenow, in particular, is furious. Today she argued that Republicans want the economy to tank in order to help themselves in the midterms

Thus in less than 24 hours, it went from Republicans worrying about the national debt to Republicans purposely tanking the economy just to embarrass Democrats.

Not to be left out, Bloomberg's Shobhana Chandra also cut right to the bone in an article on Friday:

The Senate's failure to pass legislation extending unemployment benefits will slow the pace of the U.S. recovery, said economist David Resler.

The bill's demise will trim economic growth by 0.2 percentage point this quarter and by 0.4 point in the period from July through September, estimated Resler, chief economist at Nomura Securities International Inc. in New York.

So you see, economic growth apparently comes only by way of government spending, and this time there's a real expert to say so!

But all is not lost. While working hard to opine on the terrible news, Chandra inadvertently let something slip:

Resler estimated that the unemployment rate, 9.7 percent in May, may decline by as much as one percentage point as some workers drop out of the labor force and others accept jobs they might have rejected earlier.

Wait...when people finally realize they can't live on government assistance forever, they might buckle down and accept a tough job? This nugget appeared exactly 11 paragraphs down from the headline and was quickly glossed over.

So maybe, just maybe, Republicans are trying to enact market-based principles by urging people to go back to work. Maybe it has nothing to do with sabotaging the economy after all.

Don't count on that particular narrative to grow any legs, though. An hour after the Washington Post hit piece, the Associated Press was back for more:

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said Friday that Senate Republicans could be prolonging the recession by opposing a spending bill that would have extended unemployment benefits.

Solis, talking to a group of Latino government officials in Denver, said Republicans were wrong to oppose to a broader jobs bill that would have extended jobless benefits for about 200,000 people a week. She warned of dire consequences if benefits are shut off.

"This will be devastating and could take us back to a deeper recession," Solis said

Oh yeah, urging healthy workers to accept less glamorous jobs is really the "devastating" consequence of a diabolical Republican strategy.

Good to know we have professional, independent, unbiased journalists hard on the trail of Republican masterminds. 

*****Updated by Noel Sheppard: Did media get this talking point from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) (h/t Twitter's @ndgc12dx)?

The morning after the Senate failed to advance a bill that responded to the recession, Sen. Harry Reid laid into Republicans who blocked it en masse.

Clearly sore after falling three votes short Thursday night of the 60 needed to overcome a Republican filibuster, the Senate majority leader from Nevada charged in a Senate speech that GOP senators "are betting on our country to fail."

Rather than help Americans, he said, Republicans are more interested in bringing down President Barack Obama.

"The Republicans in the Senate have made the decision to do everything they can to turn the country upside down, to do everything they can to stop economic recovery because they think it may help some of their people running for the Senate around the country.

"They figure as bad as they can make the economy, the better off they will be," Reid said. "That is a pretty difficult view for people who are United States senators."

"As we learned from the health care debate, (Republicans) want everything that Obama wants to be his Waterloo."