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Up in smoke: High-living lawmakers let politics interfere with help for jobless

Up in smoke: High-living lawmakers let politics interfere with help for jobless

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After being sworn in in January, it didn’t take long for state Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, to embrace the trappings of office that come with being a Missouri state senator. In February, Mr. Nieves turned to the social media site Twitter to tell his followers that he and Sen. Jim Lembke, R-South County,  were “enjoying cigars and port in my office.”

Remember that image as you consider that Messrs. Lembke and Nieves and two other senators are holding up a bipartisan bill to extend federal unemployment benefits to about 66,000 Missourians who have been out of work for a very long time.

For the past month, against the will of an overwhelming majority of lawmakers, including the Republican leaders in the Senate, they have been refusing to make a technical change in state law to allow $105 million in federal funds to flow to the chronically unemployed.

Messrs. Lembke and Nieves and fellow conspirators Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph and Will Kraus of Lee’s Summit say they want to send a message to Washington that federal spending must be controlled. Their stunt would do no such thing.

It would, however, hurt the Missouri economy while causing unnecessary pain and suffering to workers left reeling from a lasting recession that has caused unemployment to hover around 9 percent for nearly two years.

The Legislature passed similar bills to allow extended federal unemployment benefits to flow through in each of the past two years. If House Bill 163 doesn’t pass this week, about 10,000 Missourians who have been unemployed for about 79 weeks will lose benefits.

To hear Mr. Lembke, you would think that unemployed Missourians were just sitting around smoking cigars and drinking wine.

“People need to get off their backsides and get a job,” Mr. Lembke said about the unemployed.

Let’s explain it one more time: Rejecting federal money doesn’t mean it doesn’t get spent. It just gets spent elsewhere. Money spent on unemployment benefits is one of the best economic stimulus projects that exists. If there’s one thing economists agree on, it’s that when the unemployed get money, they spend it.

Most of it, we would surmise, goes to food to feed their families.

That’s not a problem Messrs. Lembke and Nieves understand. According to Missouri Ethics Commission records, they both get fed well in the capital city. And Mr. Lembke doesn’t have to worry about paying for his port. A lobbyist brought him $100 worth of wine on the first day of the session.

Both senators can count the money they save on meals by pulling the bills out of the money clips that they were presented by a lobbyist representing a different industry. And yet these two conservative servants of the people puff on their cigars and refuse to allow the unemployed the dignity of lunch money.

Unlike a lot of bills in the Missouri Legislature, this one will make a difference. It will feed families. It will spur spending. It will ease pain. And it won’t take a dime out of Missouri’s treasury.

If Messrs. Lembke and Nieves refuse to end their vacuous filibuster, the Republican leaders in the Missouri Senate should end it for them. Take away their port and cigars and make them get up off their backsides and do their jobs.

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