Cornyn: Generous UI benefits discourage people from working

Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) argued Wednesday that if the federal government pays people “too generously” they won’t go back to work.

His comments came as lawmakers debate whether to proceed to consideration of a bill that would extend long-term unemployment insurance for three months.

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On Dec. 28, 1.3 million people lost their unemployment benefits. The program was established for people who have been unemployed and seeking work for more than six months. The average payment is less than $300 a week  — which would be an annual income of about a $14,000.

Cornyn said if the federal government is too generous with unemployment benefits it would discourage people from seeking work.

“There is a mountain of evidence that if you pay people too generously it actually discourages some people from seeking employment,” Cornyn said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “Adding benefits for people not to work is not dealing with the underlying problem of slow economic growth.”

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said there will always be people who take advantage of a system, but that Cornyn's argument was wrong.

"The vast majority of Americans given a helping hand want to get back to work," Durbin said. "They're desperate to get back to work, but if you don't give them unemployment benefits they can't put gas in their car to get to work."

Most Republicans dislike S. 1845, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act, largely because it is not offset and would cost $6.4 billion.

Cornyn said he worried that if Republicans agree to extend the unemployment benefits, Democrats would ask for another extension in three months. He said lawmakers should instead be dealing with the “root cause” of high unemployment.

“We need to be looking at the root causes of the problem,” Cornyn said. “And the causes are the policies of this administration.”

Cornyn said President Obama’s healthcare law is a leading cause for slow economic growth because it requires employers with more than 50 full time employees to provide health insurance. He said workers are being laid off and having their hours cut as a result of the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare.

The White House and Democrats have used the push for federal unemployment benefits as part of an effort highlighting income inequality. The party hopes the issue can attract voters ahead of a midterm election in which Democrats are worried about losing the Senate.

Later Wednesday, the Senate is expected to pass a motion to proceed to the bill and debate it for the rest of the week.