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House GOP Leader Admits His Party Doesn’t Care About the Long-Term Unemployed

Getty Images/T.J. Kirkpatrick

Over the past three months, Republicans have offered one excuse after another for not extending unemployment insurance. With the Senate passing a UI extension on Monday night, House Republican leaders are searching for any reason to oppose the bill—and openly admitting that they only care about the politics of the long-term unemployment crisis.

Republicans have offered at least four reasons for refusing to extend unemployment insurance:

1. It discourages work. This one, championed by Senator Rand Paul, holds that the long-term unemployed have been passing over jobs and choosing to collect benefits instead. But the academic evidence on this issue shows that UI, at most, has a small disincentive effect on work.

2. It doesn’t have a spending offset. A number of Republicans have refused to vote for any UI extension that increases the deficit. Fair enough. The Senate bill includes a spending offset, although part of it is an accounting gimmick that does not deliver any real savings. Republicans, particularly in the House, have objected to this gimmick, but that hasn’t stopped them from supporting such gimmicks in other legislation.

3. It doesn’t have a provision to create jobs. Boehner has repeatedly made this demand, but it’s still not clear why this is a reason to oppose a UI extension. In addition, the Congressional Budget Office has found that the extension of unemployment benefits would boost demand and create jobs.

4. States can’t administer it. Boehner also offered this reason three weeks ago, showcasing a letter from the National Association of State Workforce Agencies that said that the Senate legislation “would cause considerable delays in the implementation of the program and increased administrative issues and costs.” However, Labor Secretary Tom Perez pushed back on this. In a letter to Senate leaders, he wrote, “I am confident that there are workable solutions for all of the concerns raised by NASWA.”

Now Representative Tom Cole, the deputy whip, has come up with a new one: House Republicans don’t feel any pressure to pass it.

“I don’t think there is a great sense of pressure on our members,” Cole said Monday. “The prevailing view in our conference is that there aren’t adequate pay-fors and it’s time for this program to come to an end.”

In other words, House Republicans will only help the long-term unemployed when they think there is political pressure on them to do so—not because it is sound public policy. I know that Congress has grown accustomed to acting only when self-imposed deadlines threaten fiscal calamity, but that’s not how the legislative branch is supposed to work.

Then again, at least Cole is being honest: House Republicans don’t care about the long-term unemployed. They only care about the politics surrounding them.