2014 po­lit­i­cal bat­tle lines

The Covington News - - OPINION - JACKIE CUSH­MAN COLUM­NIST

The dis­cord be­tween Democrats and Repub­li­cans re­gard­ing the three­month ex­ten­sion of un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits will be used by the Democrats for po­lit­i­cal fod­der against the Repub­li­cans, if Repub­li­cans let them.

The mid-term elec­tions dur­ing a pres­i­dent’s se­cond term tend to be tough on the pres­i­dent’s party. Ad­di­tion­ally, Obama’s ap­proval rat­ing tanked in De­cem­ber to 40 per­cent as the roll­out of his sig­na­ture health plan foundered. With the re­cent pas­sage of a bi­par­ti­san bud­get bill, the need for a di­ver­sion — a new tar­get to fo­cus po­lit­i­cal oper­a­tives and there­fore vot­ers — is key.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama laid out his 2014 agenda dur­ing his ad­dress on Jan. 4, but also pro­vided in­sight into the Demo­cratic cam­paign plan for the 2014 mid-term elec­tions this fall.

Repub­li­cans: mean and cruel; Democrats: good.

“Just a few days af­ter Christ­mas, more than one mil­lion of our fel­low Amer­i­cans lost a vi­tal eco­nomic life­line,” he said in ref­er­ence to the ex­pi­ra­tion of emer­gency ad­di­tional fed­eral un­em­ploy­ment com­pen­sa­tion for those un­em­ployed for more than 26 weeks.

Obama con­jured im­ages of par­ents try­ing to make ends meet, and cited facts from the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice about the po­ten­tial “drag on our eco­nomic growth.”

Obama drew a line in the ground: “Right now, a bi­par­ti­san group in Congress is work­ing on a three­month ex­ten­sion of un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance — and if they pass it, I will sign it,” he said.

He left un­said the hope among some Democrats that the Repub­li­cans would block the ex­ten­sion and could there­fore be called cruel and heart­less for the bal­ance of the year.

The po­lit­i­cal mes­sag­ing in Obama’s ad­dress was clear: “Repub­li­cans in Congress went home for the hol­i­days and let that life­line ex­pire,” Repub­li­cans are “pu­n­ish­ing fam­i­lies who can least af­ford it,” are “just plain cruel,” and “are will­ing to aban­don the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

All that is far dif­fer­ent from the mes­sage Obama pro­jected about him­self and his al­lies, who “don’t aban­don our fel­low Amer­i­cans when times get tough — we keep the faith with them un­til they start that new job.”

This false con­struct was cracked on Tues­day of this week when Se­nate Democrats moved for­ward on the three-month ex­ten­sion -- with the help of six Repub­li­cans and with a news re­lease from Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Boehner em­braced work­ing on “an­other ex­ten­sion of tem­po­rary emer­gency un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits,” but said they “should not only be paid for, but in­clude some­thing to help put peo­ple back to work.”

Repub­li­cans: “nice, help­ful,” was the mes­sage.

The facts are there: Ac­cord­ing to Boehner’s web­site, “’Emer­gency Un­em­ploy­ment Com­pen­sa­tion’ pro­gram is put in place only in the worst eco­nomic con­di­tions and is de­signed to be tem­po­rary ... the re­cent pro­gram ... was in place longer (66 months), was ex­tended more times (12), aided more peo­ple (24 mil­lion), cost more ($265 bil­lion) and added more to the debt ($210 bil­lion) than any pre­vi­ous pro­gram. ... The vi­tal safety net that pro­vides all el­i­gi­ble un­em­ployed work­ers 26 weeks of ben­e­fits” is still in place.

Repub­li­cans should ag­gres­sively back tem­po­rary ad­di­tional un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits, make sure they’re paid for, and tie them to job train­ing and tax breaks for job cre­ation. What’s re­ally needed, as Obama says, is more jobs, and ad­di­tional un­em­ploy­ment com­pen­sa­tion does not pro­vide jobs, just money.

To be suc­cess­ful, the Repub­li­can ar­gu­ment this fall has to be about more than facts and fig­ures; it has to in­clude emo­tion as well and be phrased in a pos­i­tive man­ner.

Arthur Brooks, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute, links a per­son’s hap­pi­ness to “the be­lief that you’ve cre­ated value in your life and value in the lives of other peo­ple. When peo­ple say that they have earned their suc­cess, they be­come much hap­pier than their neigh­bors, friends, and fam­i­lies.”

But we need to do more to com­mu­ni­cate emo­tion­ally, link­ing pol­icy to peo­ple.

We are for a pro­gram that pro­vides sup­port for the long-term un­em­ployed, but also en­cour­ages skills train­ing and job cre­ation while not adding to the debt.

Such a pro­gram would al­low a sin­gle mother, who has re­cently learned new skills, to be hired by a small com­pany that can af­ford to hire her be­cause of tax breaks. She can now ex­plain to her son how she helps oth­ers in her job and earns money for their fam­ily.

Now that’s a mes­sage Repub­li­cans should com­mu­ni­cate all year long.

To find out more about Jackie Gin­grich Cush­man, and read fea­tures by other Cre­ators Syn­di­cate writ­ers and car­toon­ists, visit www. cre­ators.com.

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