Ben Nelson's Economic Hypocrisy

| Thu Aug. 5, 2010 10:11 AM EDT

Should we extend the Bush tax cuts? Let them expire for all Americans? Or lapse just for the very wealthy? These are the questions being asked in the latest economic battle that's playing out here in Washington. If the Bush tax cuts, implemented in 2001 and 2003, were allowed to expire for everyone, the average American household's tax payment could increase by about $1,500, according to the LA Times. So far, the fate of the Bush tax cuts is dividing lawmakers along the typical partisan lines, with Democrats and the Obama administration demanding an end to them and Republicans arguing for their extension.

And then there's centrist Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). He says he opposes increasing taxes, and thus supports extending the tax cuts. Nelson supported his un-Democratic position with this statement: "I think we're at a point in our economic recovery that anything that would adversely affect it, we ought to avoid."

Hmm. That sounds awfully hypocritical. After all, the veteran senator voted against or failed to show up to vote on an issue that's arguably the best tonic for our ailing economy: unemployment benefits. Nelson opposed or ignored jobless benefits five separate times over the last two years. Nelson cited concerns that adding to the deficit "could jeopardize the recovery."

Too bad that's utterly inaccurate. As countless economists (pdf) and studies have shown, unemployment insurance is an effective form of stimulus and a way to bolster the economic recovery. Weekly unemployment insurance checks mean money in the pockets of out of work Americans, who in turn will spend that money on groceries, health care, or searching for a new job, which, if they find, puts them back in the tax-paying workforce. As White House budget guru Peter Orszag put it, "Research has shown that the unemployment insurance system is among the most effective dollar-for-dollar economic stabilizers that we have in terms of counterbalancing periods of economic weakness."

So Ben Nelson says he's against anything that hurts the economic recovery, yet repeatedly blocked jobless benefits even though they're one of the best tools out there for boosting the economic recovery—a position that makes no sense at all.