As part of his tax deal with Congressional Republicans, President Obama managed to wring out of the GOP a 13 month extension of unemployment benefits. For months, Republicans have made each extension of benefits a protracted, drawn-out fight, even with unemployment above nine percent and five unemployed job-seekers for every job opening. Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) even stayed on the Senate floor until late in the evening to personally block extending benefits, telling those asking him to relent “tough sh*t.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said yesterday that the “vast majority” of Republican senators would support the tax deal. But one who has come out with vocal opposition is Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who takes exception to the fact that the jobless benefits extension is unpaid for. “I don’t think we need to extend unemployment any further without paying for it,” he told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt yesterday.
Of course, DeMint has proposed permanently extending all of the Bush tax cuts without paying for a dime of it, adding $4 trillion in deficits over the next ten years alone. But according to DeMint, the problem with unemployment benefits is that they amount to “paying people to stay home,” as he told South Carolina’s News 13:
The senator also said extending unemployment benefits that aren’t paid for isn’t helping add new jobs. “We can’t just keep paying people to stay at home,” said DeMint. “We’ve got to create economic activity to allow businesses to grow so they can hire people.”
DeMint is hardly alone amongst his GOP colleagues in perpetuating the myth that jobless benefits encourage people to stay out of work. In the past year, the GOP has characterized the unemployed as, among other things, lazy, drug-addicted “hobos.” But research by the San Francisco Federal Reserve has found that workers who qualify for UI benefits stay unemployed just 1.6 weeks longer than those who do not qualify for such benefits.
Unemployment benefits are providing a vital lifeline to millions of Americans struggling in a weak economy, but DeMint would cut them off, while lavishing tax breaks on the wealthy. And it seems that DeMint would find some sympathetic ears amongst House Republicans, as a handful of them have said that they will oppose the tax deal because it has too few tax cuts and too much help for the jobless.