While one should never be surprised at the penchant of cynical and opportunistic politicians to enthusiastically embrace positions they passionately derided a couple of hours ago, North Carolina Republican leaders still have to be setting some kind of new record this week for one of the all-time policy 180’s.
Indeed, it would be a vast understatement to call yesterday’s statement from Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore on President Trump’s new and last-minute unemployment insurance scheme a “flip-flop.” It was more like an inward twisting reverse somersault.
For those who may have forgotten, Berger and Moore and their Republican colleagues in the General Assembly have, for the better part of the last decade, waged a relentless war on unemployment insurance. It was the General Assembly’s Republican leadership (with help from the administration of former Gov. Pat McCrory and one-time Division of Employment Security boss and current State Treasurer Dale Folwell) that helped raze what had been a middle-of-the-pack state system and make it one of the nation’s stingiest.
[Note: After this commentary was posted, Treasurer Folwell (a former state representative) reached out to Policy Watch to object to his inclusion in it and to point out that he was not in the General Assembly when the infamous House Bill 4 — which made several draconian cuts to North Carolina’s system of unemployment — was enacted in 2013, and to defend his tenure as the head of DES. It should be noted, however, that Folwell took the helm at DES just weeks after HB 4 was signed into law and oversaw its implementation. Multiple worker advocates have also confirmed to Policy Watch that Folwell’s tenure in that position was marked by several official actions that abetted the cause of making unemployment benefits less accessible to unemployed North Carolina workers.]
Many of the grisly details of that mean-spirited assault were spelled out just a few weeks back in a devastating report by the national journalism nonprofit Pro Publica entitled “How North Carolina Transformed Itself Into the Worst State to Be Unemployed.” The story explains how, among other things, GOP lawmakers slashed eligibility, benefits and the duration of time that the unemployed can receive benefits.
But wait, the story gets more outrageous.
During the recent state legislative session in which the General Assembly gathered to fashion responses to the pandemic, Berger and Moore refused to even hear Democratic demands to rebuild the state’s eviscerated system by improving benefits or eligibility.
Now, just a few weeks later, in the latest example of their utterly craven willingness to abandon past positions if commanded to do so by Dear Leader Trump (see for example Berger’s newfound concern about the impacts of online-only education on poor kids), the lawmakers are all about bolstering the social safety net and doing their utmost to portray Gov. Roy Cooper! as the roadblock to helping the unemployed during the current crisis.
All in all, it’s an exercise in hypocrisy and political opportunism so blatant and pathetically transparent as to make a body wonder if it can ever be topped. Given, however, that there are at least five months left in the Trump presidency, the chances for yet another new low still seem pretty good.