In retrospect, a significant policy and political mistake made by Democrats back in early 2009 was to ever start adopting only temporary extensions of unemployment. The result has been that, over the past two years, the need for a series of temporary extensions of unemployment. Eventually, these temporary extension become political footballs that suck up valuable senate floor time and become victims of general deficit hysteria. Recently, a one -year extension of unemployment became one of the only big concessions Obama got in the tax deal.
I do believe with nearly 10 percent unemployment, the government should provide more aid to those who lose their jobs, but it shouldn’t have been provided by a series of legislative band-aids. In hindsight, with clear indications that unemployment could remain well above normal for years, instead of passing several temporary extensions, Democrats should have passed a single reform of unemployment insurance. They should have written the law so that it would have provided the same level of extended benefits these temporary extensions did, but created a permanent formula that automatically increases unemployment benefits based on employment rates.
That would have eliminated the repeated political battles, and made UI something needing concessions from Democrats to pass more extensions.
I don’t really blame Democrats for making this mistake. Even in early 2009, it would be hard to predict that extending unemployment benefits would become a real battle with the near 10 percent unemployment, or that virtually every moderate Republican would join in holding extensions hostage. It is something that is only easy to realize in retrospect, but should be a lesson moving forward.
In the future, progressives should work harder to make things like unemployment benefits more like automatic stabilizers that won’t be subject to the random political whims of a single Sen. Jim Bunning or an across-the-board filibuster about a completely unrelated manner.
It is a reminder that, in the long run, it is often easier to just do things right the first time instead of repeatedly coming back to fix them. Is there anyone who thinks Democrats would have been politically worse off if, in March of 2009, they had passed a more permanent reform of unemployment at a somewhat higher price tag instead of a half-dozen temporary extensions. Governing by endless temporary fixes, especially with the current filibuster option always looming, leaves too much room for hostage-taking.