Black Christmas: What the Budget Deal Means for African Americans

Murray-Ryan is being hailed as a Washington win. But it’s a raw deal for government employees and the working poor.

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Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan arrive for a press conference to announce the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 at the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 10, 2013, in Washington, D.C.

T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

Republicans and Democrats in Congress are patting their backs as if simply doing their job deserves a gratuity.

Their budget deal, passed by the Senate on Wednesday, has now gone to the president’s desk for signing. But though this moment may represent a temporary cease-fire of Republican obstructionism, the Ayn Rand-ian principles that have guided the modern-day Grand Old Party remain at the center of this so-called compromise. The deal, you see, does nothing to assist America’s poor and those still coping with the consequences of the 2007-2008 Great Recession.

Many low-income workers, the elderly, veterans, African Americans and other minorities in particular will continue to lack resources and be in danger of losing more. The fact that these groups make up a significant portion of President Barack Obama’s base of supporters is not a point lost on Republican lawmakers—indeed, the deal was likely designed for that inevitable outcome. This budget deal—despite the media’s inclination to declare it a success—is a case of the devil being in the details.

For his part, Obama acknowledged Republicans’ willingness to move away from “shortsighted, crisis-driven decision-making,” while also highlighting the needs of America’s most vulnerable. “Congress,” he said, “should pass an extension of unemployment insurance so more than a million Americans don’t lose a vital lifeline as they fight to find a job.”

On Dec. 28, just three days after Christmas, 1.3 million Americans are poised to lose employment insurance. The budget compromise fails to do anything about it, but the problem is even bigger than it seems.

According to research by the National Employment Law Project (pdf), 850,000 more Americans will lose benefits in the first quarter of 2014; and by year’s end, the total will be more than 3.6 million. There are 4 million individuals who have been out of work 27 weeks or more, and African Americans represent close to 1 million of them.

And as the Washington Post’s Katrina vanden Heuvel writes, the budget “does nothing to create jobs at a time when unemployment remains our biggest economic problem.”

Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) remain confident that unemployment benefits will be extended during the omnibus legislative negotiations that take place before Jan. 15, but given the GOP’s strong-arm tactics in the past, this seems overly optimistic.

The long-term unemployed are currently at 36.9 percent of the total unemployed, and more than a third live in households that are below the poverty line.

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