Not only did Bobby Jindal make a fool of himself in his Republican response to President Obama's speech to Congress, Jindal revealed a few days earlier that he's also a con man.
Even most right-wingers saw his speech as terrible. "I think it's insane. I think it's a disaster for the party," commented conservative columnist David Brooks. Another conservative, blogger Andrew Sullivan, remarked that the Governor of Louisiana talked down to his audience "as if he were speaking to kindergarteners." Even the Republican Party's real leader, Rush Limbaugh, was critical of Jindal's style, if not his substance: "We cannot shun politicians who speak for our beliefs just because we don't like the way he says it," the language-mangling Limbaugh remarked.
But days before his awful speech Tuesday night, Jindal said something totally misleading - something that made him an idol to wingnuts - at least until his unfortunate television appearance. He declared last Friday, then repeated it Sunday on Meet The Press, that he decided not to take a tiny fraction of the $3.9 billion in federal funds for which Louisiana is eligible from the national stimulus bill President Obama signed into law last week.
Jindall said he'd reject about 2.5 per cent of the money, amounting to $98 million, all of it in more benefits for unemployed Louisiana workers. Jindal said that although he'd accept the part of the stimulus that provides unemployed workers with $25 more a week, he'd turn down the part that requires the state to change its law to increase by about 4,000 the number of people entitled to unemployment compensation. Many of them are part-time workers.
Jindal told the Meet The Press audience he'd reject the money because, he said, "The word 'permanently' is in the bill. It requires the state to make a permanent change in our law." The state's business and industry association, representing employers, "agrees with me," Jindal added. "They say, 'Yes, this will result in an increase in taxes on our businesses, this will result in a permanent obligation on the state of Louisiana'." A state official estimated that the extra cost to employers could be $12 million a year, according to the New Orleans Times Picayune.
It comes as no surprise to anyone that businessmen in Louisiana or anywhere else would rather not pay more taxes to ease the plight of workers who lost their jobs. American capitalism should not, after all, be confused with philanthropy. But for executives, or Jindal, to argue that the law must inevitably force them to pay increased business taxes after the extra federal money runs out is ridiculous.
The stimulus law does provide that money for increased unemployment benefits can go to a state only if the increased benefits are "in effect as permanent law," and that the law cannot be "subject to discontinuation."
That means a state law cannot be written with a sunset provision that automatically drops the extra benefits when the federal funds run out after 2011. So Jindal is correct when he says that current Louisiana law would have to be changed. And Louisiana's Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu was wrong when, arguing against Jindal's position, she said that any new law could be sunsetted.
But the federal government could not stop the state legislature from repealing that change when the stimulus expires. So says Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy organization for low wage workers. Jindal himself admits as much. His office concedes that any such "permanent" state law could be changed, but adds that do so would be wrong. "You can't make a change with a nod and a wink that says we'll come back and change it later," the Times Picayune quotes one state labor official as explaining.
Apparently, to Jindal and his aides, changing the law is, somehow, like cheating. And, like most of today's Republican politicians, the governor would rather cheat the poorest unemployed workers in his state of an extra few dollars than cause its businessmen, his bigtime buddies, to pay a little extra in unemployment taxes.
So Jindal's argument that Louisiana would have to "permanently" change its law, while not an outright lie, is almost totally misleading. That has not, of course, stopped his becoming a hero to several other Republican governors, including those in South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi, who have also threatened to refuse to take some of those federal unemployment funds that would help thousands of jobless men and women. In the event that Jindal or any of the others do actually decline to take all they're entitled to, there are plenty of other governors - including Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger of California - who say they'd be only too happy to take all that money instead.