This morning, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace asked Alaska Republican senatorial candidate Joe Miller about recent data from the Census Bureau which found that a stagering one in seven or 43.6 million Americans are living in poverty, the highest level since 1994. Noting that Miller had previously claimed that unemployment benefits were unconstitutional Wallace asked, “without unemployment benefits, a lot more, millions more would be living in poverty — what would you do for them?” Miller initially ducked the question, but when Wallace persisted, Miller accused Americans of suffering from an “entitlement mentality” and argued that providing unemployment benefits was not among Congress’ enumerated powers:
MILLER: I think the question is what is the role of the federal government? Right now, we’ve grown the federal government to such a size that we have what, I think in absolute terms now, $13.4 trillion in debt if you look at the future unfunded obligations, which a lot of those are the entitlement programs, by some estimates $130 trillion. That’s unsustainable. That’s just the facts. [...]
WALLACE: But Mr. Miller, if I may, I’m not sure you answered my question. Why are unemployment benefits unconstitutional and in a time of a tough economy, a recession, a now a kind of jobless economy, what are you going to do for the 44 million people who are living in poverty?
MILLER: I think what you need to look at is the context. We have an extension of unemployment benefits several weeks ago, which is beyond what we had in the past in this country. What we have in this country is an entitlement mentality. It’s an entitlement, not just as individual but even at the state level… everything that fails the government should be involved in bailing out. And the constitution provides enumerated powers. And I guess my challenge is to anybody that ask, show me the enumerated power. And then look at what the tenth amendment that says if it’s not in the constitution, it’s a power that belongs to the state and the people.
Miller’s radical tenther views aside, unemployment benefits have become essential in today’s economic climate and have kept millions of American families out of poverty. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities’s (CBPP) Arloc Sherman has analyzed the latest Census numbers and found that unemployment insurance kept 3.3 million Americans out of poverty in 2009. “In other words, there were 43.6 million Americans whose families were below the poverty line in 2009, according to the official poverty statistics, which count jobless benefits as part of families’ income. But if you don’t count jobless benefits, 46.9 million Americans were poor,” the Center concluded.
Miller may have the most extreme views on unemployment benefits but as Zaid Jilani notes, he’s not the only conservative to strongly oppose extending the benefit. Republicans in the Senate have repeatedly locked arms to block extending the benefits for unemployed Americans, putting the wellbeing of jobless people in peril. And as the Wonk Room’s Pat Garofalo notes, a major chunk of 2009’s unemployment benefits were funded by the stimulus bill, which “House Republicans unanimously opposed.”