The Republican leadership in the House of Representatives yesterday proposed allowing states to require drug tests for anyone receiving unemployment benefits. I’m not sure why they think that those who have had the misfortune of losing their jobs in these difficult economic times particularly need to be tested for the use of illegal substances. But if they’re gung ho for drug testing, it seems like we ought to be sharing the blood-drawing joy. I can think of plenty of places where it would be much more useful.
It seems far more important to the nation that members of the House of Representatives be free of the influence of reality-altering substances than unemployed people. After all, when members of Congress make decisions under the influence of hallucinogens, it affects the entire country. Your average unemployed person? Not so much. And truthfully, which group of Americans demonstrates more evidence of drug-induced behavior? If you have any doubts, take a look at the House Republicans’ budget proposals.
But why stop with members of Congress? There are others that have lots of power and hold their positions by virtue of taxpayer beneficence. Bankers come to mind. When Fortune magazine famously asked on its front cover, “What Were They Smoking?”, they were asking about the doyens of Wall Street, not the unemployed. Since few of those who destroyed the economy actually ended up unemployed, they wouldn’t be subject to the testing proposed by the House Republicans. It seems like they ought to be. Then maybe we’d have fewer unemployed people to start with.
Sure, we’d be sweeping up the good bankers with the bad ones—but I’ve got no reason to believe that bankers are less likely to be using narcotics than unemployed people. And the House Republicans have no problem taking their blood.
The other group that the country might benefit from having tested for drugs is the rich. After all, they’re the ones who can actually still afford premium narcotics. We know this is an important population to keep an eye on. For the more public of them—athletes, rockers, former child television stars—the evidence is in. Now I’m not saying every wealthy person should be subject to drug testing just because they’re wealthy. That would be class warfare. No, let’s just say that if you get a government subsidy through the tax code for a second vacation home, a corporate jet, a yacht, or any other way, then you are tested.
This seems entirely sensible. When the House Republicans aren’t trying to drug test the unemployed, they’re trying to throw money at the wealthy in the hope that they’ll create some jobs. The results haven’t been very good but still, the wealthy aren’t going to create many jobs if they’re smoking unauthorized substances, staring off into space, listening to Phish, and yammering on about whether there could be a planet where water flows uphill.
So kudos to the House Republican leadership. They’ve hit on the key to restoring good governance and getting the economy back on track: drug testing. Why didn’t we think of this sooner?
Michael Ettlinger is Vice President for Economic Policy at the Center for American Progress.
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Vice President, Economic Policy