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A Recessional Debate

Rosalind Helderman

Positions are hardening between Virginia's political parties over the issue of $125 million in federal unemployment dollars rejected by the Republican-controlled House of Delegates last month.

Today, Democrats launch a weeklong tour to "support Virginia's unemployed," with events at the closed Tultex sweat shirt headquarters in Martinsville and the Danville Workforce Center featuring delegates and delegate candidates signing a petition on the issue. Every Democrat in the state will be highlighting this vote for months to come, convinced voters in a depressed economy will see the decision to turnback federal funds for the unemployed as heartless and out of touch.

But Republicans have hardly ceded the issue. Federal bailouts are not exactly universally popular at the moment, and they see the unemployment dollars as an example of federal overreach.

That's because they came with a requirement that state legislators change their laws to allow part-time workers to get unemployment insurance and to extend benefits while workers take training classes, a possible disincentive to get back into the workforce.

When the federal funds dry up, the state would have to amend its laws again or be on the hook for new spending to go along with the changes approved to get federal money.

In a letter to Virginia's congressional delegation sent Tuesday, Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob McDonnell called those requirements as "an unfortunate and burdensome mandate" that trampled the "cherished principles of federalism crafted by Virginia's founders." He asked that Congress change the requirement that states change their laws to get the funding.

Yesterday, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce sent a similar letter to U.S. Sen. Jim Webb on behalf of 25 local chambers and other business groups with a similar request and the assertion that changing the insurance rules would be bad for business, discouraging job growth at the worst time.

Unlike so many issues in a Virginia campaign, this is not one that has been argued to death. It's a new issue to this particularly cruel economic time, and both sides think they've got the mood of voters right on this. Expect to see a heck of a lot more said about it as the campaign season heats up.

By Rosalind Helderman  |  April 30, 2009; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  2009 Governor's Race , Election 2009 , General Assembly 2009 , Robert F. McDonnell , Rosalind Helderman  
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McDonnell and the Repubs made a big mistake with this. They should be trying to help people, not playing political games.

Posted by: amy130 | May 1, 2009 5:35 PM | Report abuse

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