Senate Republicans have been preventing a final vote on a measure to extend unemployment benefits to more than 3 million Americans because of the $33 billion cost. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has been on the front lines of the unemployment benefits battle all year.
This week on C-Span, Coburn argued that he’s not against extending the benefits, he just wants the cost to the government to be offset. (He has no such concerns when it comes to extending the Bush tax cuts, however.) “We’re just saying, it’s important now…that if we’re going to do that that we pay for it.” But then Coburn suggested that people don’t even need the benefits anyway, citing a conversation he had with his roommate, Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC):
COBURN: I live with Congressman Heath Shuler. He told me yesterday that a job fair in North Carolina…had over 500 jobs available. Three people showed up. Three people showed up for 500 jobs in an area of unemployment of 10 percent. And his explanation was, “They’re not going do it until the benefits lessen.” And that may not be an exact interpretation of what his words were but the fact is there is a negative aspect to continuing unemployment.
Did only three people show up to a job fair that had 500 jobs available? As Crooks and Liars noted, this seems highly unlikely. ThinkProgress spoke with a knowledgeable source who helped organize the jobs event with Shuler. The source told us that it was actually a “work force training” and that there were “some jobs available,” but not 500 as Coburn had claimed.
And did Shuler really suggest that Americans on unemployment benefits won’t look for a job until their “benefits lessen?” That statement “is not consistent with what [Shuler’s] position has been” on unemployment benefits, said the source, who called Coburn’s comment “insulting” because he made Shuler’s constituents “out to look like a bunch of deadbeats.”
Asked for his views on extending unemployment insurance, Rep. Shuler provided ThinkProgress with the following statement:
While it needs to be done in a fiscally responsible manner, I think it is our responsibility to provide unemployment benefits for those who lose work through no fault of their own. I’m holding a variety of events in my district to create a job-friendly environment and to connect my hardworking constituents with job opportunities.
Indeed, according to the source, the congressman has had other job events in his district that were “phenomenally attended.”