Bush's turnaround

November 15, 1991

Despite President Bush's pronouncement last week that the recession is over, there are millions of Americans who know full well that it isn't -- notably the 3 million people who are still out of work and whose unemployment benefits have run out.

For them, and for many others facing benefit cutoffs soon, extended aid may be the only thing standing between them and impoverishment as they struggle to find work in a debilitated economy. Until recently, however, President Bush resisted extending unemployment benefits, vetoing or blocking two bills passed by Congress because, he said, paying for them would have "busted the budget." So it was welcome news this week when Bush and congressional leaders finally agreed on a "compromise" that provides up to 20 weeks of benefits beyond the 26 weeks already covered. (In Maryland, unemployed workers will get an extra 13.)

The key to Bush's support of the new bill, ostensibly, is that the $5.1 billion cost will be offset by closing a tax loophole, withholding tax refunds from people who have defaulted on student loans and maintaining the unemployment tax instead of allowing a scheduled drop. The deficit should not increase a penny.

Creative financing certainly makes the bill more politically palatable to the administration, but it appears not to have been the only factor in Bush's turnaround. Since Dick Thornburgh's defeat in last week's Pennsylvania Senate race, both parties have been blaming each other for the anemic economy. Then, in a forum before labor groups earlier this week, Democratic presidential candidates scored points by hammering away at Bush's insensitivity to the struggles of American workers. Bush's continued opposition to extended aid for the jobless had become a liability.

The political machinations, however, mean little to the millions of Americans who are down on their luck. For them, what matters is that the nation's leaders finally did the right thing, and that now they may be able to hang on for another couple of months.

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