Rep. Steve King: Unemployment Benefits Have Created "A Nation Of Slackers"

September 16, 2011 11:35 am ET — Alan Pyke

It's taken three years, but America has finally graduated from being "a nation of whiners" in 2008 to "a nation of slackers" in 2011 — at least, that's what Rep. Steve King (R-IA) believes we've accomplished. In a floor speech yesterday afternoon, King railed against safety net spending because it's "ridiculous" to say it boosts the economy, and because it's out of keeping with the biblical dictum that "He who would not work, would not eat." Later, King added that "we can't have a nation of slackers" where we "borrow money to pay the welfare of people that won't work."

REP. STEVE KING: United States of America borrows money and hands it to people and tells them, you don't have to work for this. You don't have to produce anything for this. We just want you to spend it. That's your patriotic duty, to take the money that we borrowed from the Chinese, and the debt burden we put on our grandchildren, and put it in people's hands and say it's a patriotic thing, take your food stamps and take your rent subsidy and heat subsidy and your unemployment check, and go engage in commerce, that's patriotic. Um, no? [...]

The former speaker of the House, Speaker Pelosi, has consistently said that unemployment checks are one of those reliable and immediate forms of economy recovery, that you get a lot of bang for your buck when you pay people not to work, and they will go out and spend that money immediately, therefore we should pass out unemployment checks and stimulate the economy. That statement is ridiculous where I come from, Mr. Speaker. To pay people not to work, and somehow in that formula it stimulates the economy. [...]

The 80 million Americans that are of working age but are simply not in the workforce need to be put to work. We can't have a nation of slackers and then have me have to sit in the Judiciary Committee listening to them argue that there's work that Americans won't do, so we have to import people to do the work that Americans won't do, and borrow money to pay the welfare of people that won't work. That is a foolish thing for a nation to do. We've gotta get this country back to work and get those people out of the slacker rolls and onto the employed rolls.

Of course, it's not just Democrats who say that unemployment benefits are an immensely efficient way for the government to spur economic activity. It's the Congressional Budget Office and scads of other economists.

Perhaps more importantly, King insinuated that the entire Democratic plan for economic growth is simply to hand out more welfare checks. That's false. Over the past two years, President Obama has proposed combinations of working-class tax cuts and direct federal spending into the economy, with the end goal of boosting demand. He's done that because demand is what businesses and job creators say they need most when you ask them. In the process, he's cut taxes by almost twice as much as President Bush did in his first term.

Yes, spending levels for safety net programs have risen in the wake of the financial collapse and the looting of our economy by fraudulent mortgage lenders. Yes, there are millions of able-bodied Americans out of work. But if King thinks that's because the jobless are "slackers," and not because there are about four job seekers for every opening right now even as companies put their money into dividends rather than hiring, he's in denial.

Watch (full transcript below the fold):

REP. STEVE KING: United States of America borrows money and hands it to people and tells them, you don't have to work for this. You don't have to produce anything for this. We just want you to spend it. That's your patriotic duty, to take the money that we borrowed from the Chinese, and the debt burden we put on our grandchildren, and put it in people's hands and say it's a patriotic thing, take your food stamps and take your rent subsidy and heat subsidy and your unemployment check, and go engage in commerce, that's patriotic. Um, no? What's patriotic is, carry your own weight. I mean, John Smith said clear back then in the 1600s, No work, no eat. That also's part of the New Testament, where he lifted that from I believe is Galatians, He who would not work would also not eat. And that doesn't mean we don't wanna take care of people who can't help themselves, but people who can help themselves need to help themselves and all the rest of us.

We're hearing the statements come out of people that generally sit over on this side of the floor, Mr. Speaker, this belief that economic stimulus— the former speaker of the House, Speaker Pelosi, has consistently said that unemployment checks are one of those reliable and immediate forms of economy recovery, that you get a lot of bang for your buck when you pay people not to work, and they will go out and spend that money immediately, therefore we should pass out unemployment checks and stimulate the economy. That statement is ridiculous where I come from, Mr. Speaker. To pay people not to work, and somehow in that formula it stimulates the economy. [...]

The 80 million Americans that are of working age but are simply not in the workforce need to be put to work. We can't have a nation of slackers and then have me have to sit in the Judiciary Committee listening to them argue that there's work that Americans won't do, so we have to import people to do the work that Americans won't do, and borrow money to pay the welfare of people that won't work. That is a foolish thing for a nation to do. We've gotta get this country back to work and get those people out of the slacker rolls and onto the employed rolls.

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