House Dem leader: GOP drug-testing idea ‘insulting’ to the unemployed

The ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee said the Republican idea to drug-test those seeking unemployment insurance is “insulting” to out-of-work Americans and does nothing to address why people are struggling to find jobs.

In January 2012, lawmakers will return to Washington to negotiate a full-year payroll tax cut, after the stopgap two-month extension was signed into law on Friday. Some Republicans want to allow states to drug-test unemployment benefit applicants as a part of that longer-term measure.

“We’re willing to look at reforms,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” on Sunday. “But the Republican rhetoric has been insulting to a whole lot of working Americans who lost their jobs through no fault of their own.”

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Earlier this month, Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) argued on the House floor that drug abuse is one of the “main reasons” companies in his district haven’t been hiring workers.

“I have been back in my district, and we do town halls all the time," he said. "And what I've heard from small-business owners across our district is that one of the main reasons that they cannot hire individuals is because they simply cannot pass a drug test."

Van Hollen said this is a complete misdiagnosis of the unemployment crisis.

“I think the drug-testing thing is a red herring,” he said. “The reality is that people are not out of work because they have substance abuse problems, people are out of work because there are four people looking for every job that’s available in America.”

Van Hollen said voters are taking notice of the Republican strategy to demonize the victims.

“I have to say, this Republican effort to kind of blame people who lost jobs through no fault of their own shows a total insensitivity to the stories that we’re hearing from districts around the country,” he said. “Frankly I think the American people are hearing that tone and they’re not very appreciative, because they know that everybody, but for the grace of God, could also be in that position.”