Republican leaders walk fine line on unemployment


Congressional Republican leaders are using the nation’s jobless rate as campaign ammunition while facing pressure from some in their ranks who want to stop extending unemployment benefits.

Most Republicans on Capitol Hill, including House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), support unemployment benefit extensions, but say they should be paid for.

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Democrats contend the extensions are “emergency spending” and should not apply to pay-as-you-go rules.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who has offered legislation on the issue in the upper chamber, said more Republicans are focused on the nation’s debt and want offsets.

But Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) told The Hill that paying for the cost of an unemployment extension doesn’t cut it for him.

Asked if he would support Thune’s alternative, Roskam replied, “Not me. It makes no sense to spend more money, because you are just going to create more of a drag on the economy. So guys like me would vote no.”

Because the Democrats’ proposed benefits extension is included in a large bill on taxes and healthcare, Republicans have primarily cited other provisions as reasons why they oppose the measure that has been slowly working its way through Congress.

“There’s not a united conference position against [unemployment] extension. However, I think the conference is pretty united against any effort to add anything to it. If we don’t get a clean bill, that, to Republicans, is enough reason to vote against it, no matter how they feel about that particular issue,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said.

A fiscal conservative lawmaker who requested anonymity said that members in his party would have a tough time voting against a standalone jobless benefits bill.

Some GOP candidates running for Congress have spoken out against the unemployment extensions.

On Friday, Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul said, “In Europe, they give about a year of unemployment. We’re up to two years in America.”

Paul, who made the remarks on WVLK-AM in Kentucky, added, “As bad as it sounds, ultimately we do have to sometimes accept a wage that’s less than we had at our previous job in order to get back to work and allow the economy to get started again. Nobody likes that, but it may be one of the tough-love things that has to happen.”

Sharron Angle, a Tea Party favorite who will face Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in November, has been outspoken on the matter.

She told KRNV-TV in Nevada that “you can make more money on unemployment than you can going down and getting one of those jobs that is an honest job, but it doesn’t pay as much. … we really have spoiled our citizenry.”

Angle has lambasted Reid for the state’s unemployment rate, which at 14 percent is the highest in the nation.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who could face a primary challenge in 2012, has introduced legislation stating that welfare and unemployment beneficiaries would have to pass a drug test to qualify for the government programs.

Meanwhile, Jason Taylor, a Central Michigan University professor of economics, told a Ways and Means subcommittee earlier this month that extending unemployment benefits beyond the customary 26 weeks is counterproductive.

Taylor, who was invited to testify by Ways and Means Republicans, stated that “the longer the time frame people are eligible for such benefits, the longer it takes for unemployment rates to fall. While the poor labor market is to blame for much of this jump in duration, there can be no doubt that incentives to obtain new employment have been, and will continue to be, tempered by governmental action which has extended unemployment insurance.”

Liberals strongly disagree.

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) late last month said, “If you’re unemployed, what the f--k difference does that make to you? If you had a job, you would take the job.”

Miller spoke as the House moved forward with an extension of unemployment benefits through November. The legislation has stalled in the Senate.

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“You’ve got millions of people out of work, and the idea that they all have a clever scheme that they’re going to live high off the hog on unemployment — people are losing their houses because of unemployment,” he said. “So you think what? That this is a good thing? ‘Unemployment check, I’m losing my house, this is cool’?”

For centrist Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), the answer is simple: Give the House a clean bill on unemployment benefits and he will vote for it.

 “Listen, with the state of the economy and the absence of jobs, I don’t think that there’s this huge pool of people out there that says, ‘Oh boy, now I [don’t have to look] for a job for another few weeks.’ I think that’s cynical,” LaTourette said.