Sen. DeMint: "A Lot" Of Unemployed Americans Don't Want To Work

September 06, 2011 11:41 am ET — Matt Finkelstein

After a month-long vacation, Congress will turn its attention to job creation when lawmakers return to Washington tomorrow. President Obama will lay out his vision for combating high unemployment in a speech on Thursday night, while House Republicans have already previewed a "jobs agenda" focusing almost exclusively on deregulation.

In an interview on CNN this weekend, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) foreshadowed the Republican argument in the coming debate, boasting that he spent August "visiting a lot of businesses," who told him they "are actually afraid to hire people because of what the government will do to them" and "what they want is less regulation."

DEMINT: I have spent the month of August visiting a lot of businesses, manufacturing plants. I have been on shop floors. I have talked to a lot of the companies that create jobs in South Carolina and across the country. And what they want is less regulation. They just keep talking about the EPA, FCC, all these different agencies, National Labor Relations Board that seem to be harassing companies. They want to know what their health care costs are going to be, what the unemployment costs are going to be. They are actually afraid to hire people because of what they're afraid of what the government will do to them.

When the conversation turned toward the extension of unemployment benefits, DeMint again emphasized what he is supposedly hearing from the business community. According to DeMint, "a lot" of companies want to hire but "can't get employees to come back to work" thanks to the availability of long-term jobless benefits.  

DEMINT: I have talked to a lot of businesses in South Carolina who can't get employees to come back to work because they are getting unemployment and they're getting food stamps and they say call me when unemployment runs out. [...]

There are a lot of people who desperately need it and we need to make sure that we have that safety net in place, but we also have to realize there are a lot of people gaming the system right now. And we need to do better than we have done with just extending benefits, there have to be incentives for people to get back to work. These have to phase out in a way that we haven't done it before.

This is a conspicuous example of conservative talking points getting in each other's way: It's possible that companies are "afraid" to hire because of government oppression or that companies are actively trying to hire but can't because the unemployed are "gaming the system" — but not both. And in fact, neither of DeMint's clashing arguments accounts for the real reason most businesses are not hiring, which is the persistence of low demand.

DeMint's comments also illuminate how out of touch today's Republican Party is. Millions of Americans are not only out of work, but also struggling to overcome discrimination from companies that are hiring. Yet, one of the most influential Republican leaders is willing to go on national television and baselessly argue that the modest stipend that helps the unemployed afford groceries is making them too lazy to get a job. 

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