December 01, 2010 10:38 am ET - by Matt Finkelstein
Unemployment benefits expired for millions of jobless Americans at midnight, marking the first time in four decades that Congress has failed to provide benefits with so many Americans out of work. Republican lawmakers who blocked an extension of benefits maintain that the country simply cannot afford to spend $12 billion on the unemployed, even as they fight to secure permanent tax cuts for the richest two percent of Americans, which will heap hundreds of billions on to the deficit.
On MSNBC's Morning Joe today, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) said that while he is "deeply sympathetic" to the plight of the unemployed, "we've got to make the cuts necessary to offset those costs." During the interview, Pence claimed that Republicans are "anxious to support" struggling Americans, "particularly in the holiday season." However, asked whether he would accept a compromise that paid for unemployment benefits by allowing tax cuts to expire only on income over $1 million, Pence insisted that the jobless are better off swallowing tax cuts for the very rich than receiving immediate relief.
Pressed further on his priorities by Time's Mark Halperin, Pence awkwardly joked that he's "not good at chess," before falling back on his talking points. "I think the minimum that we have to do right now for Americans that are struggling in unemployment in this economy is make sure that no American sees a tax increase," he said.
HALPERIN: If your leaders came to you and said, "We have a deal with the White House. We're going to extend unemployment benefits, but the tax cuts for the people making over a million dollars a year will not be extended, but that helps to pay for it," would you take deal? Would you vote for that package?
PENCE: Look, I think the worst thing you could do for people that are struggling in this economy and looking for a job is raising taxes on any American. We don't wanna help with one hand and take away with another.
HALPERIN: Would you rather extend the tax cuts for every American, including those making over a million, or have the unemployment benefits extended if that's the choice?
PENCE: [Laughs] Yeah, good. This isn't a corner, but I feel the paint. You know? I'm good, nice move. I played chess with my son the other day and I lost, so, you know, I'm not good at this chess thing. [Laughs] Let me tell you, I think the minimum that we have to do right now for Americans that are struggling in unemployment in this economy is make sure that no American sees a tax increase.
Pence also plugged his speech on Monday at the Detroit Economic Club, in which he advocated for a flat tax and a return to the gold standard. Former Reagan adviser Bruce Bartlett excoriated the speech yesterday, calling it a "hackneyed rehash" of "simplistic" ideas. "Mike Pence isn't ready for prime time," Bartlett concluded. "His proposals show no hint of understanding the true nature of our economic problems or any evidence that he has thought more than five minutes on what to do about them. The sad thing is that Pence at least spent five minutes; most other Republicans don't appear to have spent even that much."
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