In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the reader is made aware of the limits of Ebenezer Scrooge’s generosity when the protagonist is approached by a portly gentleman who is raising funds for the unfortunate :
“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.
“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”
How cruel, the reader is supposed to think, to suggest punishing the poor for being poor — and on Christmas Eve!
Congress is about to make a million of the nation’s most unfortunate citizens a little more unfortunate by simply doing nothing. At the end of this month 1.3 million people — including 20,000 veterans — will lose their unemployment benefits as a federal program that extends coverage to those out of work for up to a year expires at a cost of $25 billion a year.
House Democrats have seen their attempts to continue the extension rebuffed by their Republican colleagues and are now using hearings to try to draw attention to the stories of those who will be cut off. This, unfortunately, will not likely be enough to convince Congress, which just let food stamp coverage shrink, to act.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the chief budget negotiator for House Republicans, is attempting to refocus on “poverty,” according to recent reports in the press.
But for Ryan, helping the poor sounds suspiciously like punishing them.
“Paul wants people to dream again,” a Ryan advisor recently said. “You don’t dream when you’ve got food stamps.”
Apparently, starvation is better for dreaming.
How does Mitt Romney’s former running mate think the poor should be helped?
“You cure poverty eye to eye, soul to soul,” he said, during a recent speech at the Heritage Foundation. “Spiritual redemption: That’s what saves people.”
At the end of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge experiences spiritual redemption and decides he must help the unfortunate. But since Ryan’s spirituality owes more to Ayn Rand than Dickens, we can’t expect such an awakening for the House GOP. The long-term unemployed will be punished along with everyone else, as economic growth is reduced by an estimated 0.4 percentage points in the first quarter of 2014, destroying 310,000 jobs.
So if Republicans want $25 billion in cuts this year, here’s how they can get them without punishing those out of work during the holiday season.