Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) went on Fox News last night with host Greta Van Susteren to discuss the White House tax deal, which passed in the Senate yesterday afternoon. Hatch was largely supportive of the measure, which included an unpaid-for extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, but he was upset that the bill included an extension of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits because they were also not paid for. But in attacking the benefits extension, Hatch falsely claimed that UI currently lasts “well over 100 weeks,” and that jobless benefits encourage the unemployed not to look for work:
HATCH: I would prefer the insurance to be paid for, naturally. They weren’t going to pay for it. Let’s be honest about it — the Democrats have always won on unemployment insurance. It is well over 100 weeks now. There is no question people are suffering. I don’t want them to suffer.
On the other hand, we also know there are people who could be working who won’t work because they’ve got unemployment insurance and they keep — don’t go out and start looking, especially jobs that might not be as good as what they had before. So these are all things that had to be worked out.
It’s curious that Hatch has such a strong opinion on unemployment benefits, since he clearly doesn’t understand the program well. The length that UI benefits last differs between states, but nowhere in the country do benefits last “well over 100 weeks.” The maximum length of UI anywhere is 99 weeks, hence the so-called 99ers, people who have exhausted their benefits and have still been unable to find work. Fellow Republicans like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) have also railed against the extension of UI benefits in the tax bill while demonstrating they lack an elementary understanding of the program.
Meanwhile, Hatch’s claim that “there are people who could be working who won’t work because they’ve got unemployment insurance” is both false and offensive to people who are out of work. Research by the San Francisco Federal Reserve has found that workers who qualify for UI benefits stay unemployed for just 1.6 weeks longer than those who do not qualify for such benefits. Moreover, there is currently only one job opening for every five job seekers, meaning “even if every job opening were instantly filled with an unemployed worker, four out of five unemployed workers would still be looking for a job,” as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found.
And like many of his GOP colleagues, Hatch is upset that the UI benefits are not paid for, but has no problem exploding the deficit to lavish tax cuts on the wealthiest two percent of Americans, suggesting where his true priorities lie.