Van Hollen: Rand Paul 'insulting' on unemployment benefits

A top House Democrat on Sunday called Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) position on unemployment benefits “insulting."

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, blasted Paul on “Fox News Sunday” for opposing another extension to long-term unemployment benefits.

Paul, along with some other Republicans, opposes extending the program that has been in place since the financial crisis and provides federal benefits to the long-term unemployed that have exhausted state resources. Conservatives argue policymakers should focus on creating more jobs rather than boosting the safety net. Congress is currently debating extending the measure, after letting it expire at the end of 2013.

Van Hollen said Paul’s stance is insulting, because the program requires the unemployed to keep looking for work to receive assistance.

“You listen to people like Rand Paul, they take the insulting position that these people are just sitting back and taking an unemployment benefit,” he said. “They’re required to look for work.”

Van Hollen’s comments came as part of a broader debate about the government’s efforts to fight poverty, amid the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s declaration of a war on poverty.

Republicans spent much of the week arguing Democratic efforts to fight poverty have failed and are calling for a new approach.

Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), who appeared alongside Van Hollen, said Democratic policies have come up short and that a new approach is needed.

“There’s a better way ... I think it’s long past time to change direction,” he said. “We can do better. We must do better.”

Van Hollen acknowledged that too many people still linger in poverty, but said that broadsides against policies to combat it ignore what has been achieved in the last half century. He said that since Johnson’s remarks, the percentage of Americans living in poverty has fallen by one-third.

“We’re not winning because we still have 47 million Americans in poverty, but let’s not ignore the progress we’ve made,” he said.