Rep. Foxx Echoes GOP Doublespeak On Unemployment Benefits

July 23, 2010 12:51 pm ET — Alan Pyke

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) provided a striking example this week of the way Republicans hustle unemployed voters. On Thursday, Foxx claimed that Republicans would be all for extending benefits if the majority would agree to pay for the extensions. But just one day earlier, Foxx was arguing that unemployment insurance is just an unemployment subsidy and "if you subsidize something, you get more of it."


First, Foxx is wildly distorting the already misleading Wall Street Journal editorial she's reading. A one-week extension of jobless aid, Foxx claims, increases the recipient's unemployment spell by 16 to 20 weeks. That is, one week's unemployment check (national average: $300 before taxes) will keep you from working for four to five months. (The Journal relates the real number — aid recipients "hold out" for 0.16-0.2 weeks, less than two days.) Remember, this is the person Republicans chose to manage their time in debating unemployment insurance extensions in the US House of Representatives.

Second, Foxx's argument — the Journal's argument — is based on what Heidi Shierholz in the Washington Post calls "Five Myths About Unemployment."

As the Post article makes clear, the deficit-hawk argument Republicans like Foxx make to unemployed voters is wrongheaded, and unemployment benefits only increase unemployment spells by a short time:

It's true that if people receive unemployment benefits, they tend to take slightly longer to find a new job. That's the conclusion of a number of studies...Today, however, unemployment insurance isn't providing breathing room -- it's providing a lifeline... Skimping on assistance to unemployed workers will not help with our long-term budget problems, and it could threaten the economic recovery.

When they are asked about it on TV, most Republicans do what Foxx did yesterday and paint their relentless opposition to unemployment benefits as righteous deficit hawkishness.

It's obvious now that that's CYA politics, given the number of Republicans who have denounced unemployment insurance as a government scam to pay people for not working (and thereby encourage them to be lazy about finding work).

Furthermore, Senate Republicans made the unemployed wait an additional 30 hours for their checks after Democrats broke the filibuster this week. The filibuster rules allow the opposing party to delay the final vote even after the cloture motion passes, and Republicans refused to waive that right.

Not because it would keep the cost off the nation's balance sheet. Just to stick it to the unemployed for a bit longer. Just because they could. Just because they think that a lifeline for laid-off families in hard times is turning proud Americans into "hobos."