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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Republicans’ opposition to social safety net programs is unpopular with average Americans — and they know it. But, every so often, GOP politicians just can’t keep their views about cutting unemployment benefits or gutting government programs that combat inequality to themselves.

From perceived moderates to the most radical right-wingers, it’s an issue that unites conservatives of every stripe.

Mitt Romney, for example, famously paid the price for his “47 percent” comments in the 2012 presidential election. Just last month, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) pushed the idea that extending unemployment benefits would hurt the unemployed and damage the economy. Paul too received intense criticism for his straightforward approach to tackling entitlement spending.

The latest example came on Tuesday, when House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) said that extending unemployment benefits would be “immoral.”

Sessions argued that an extension of unemployment benefits is an assault on the free market. “I believe it is immoral for this country to have as a policy extending long-term unemployment [benefits] to people rather than us working on creation of jobs,” Sessions said. “A job is the most important attribute, I believe, in a free enterprise system.”

So where does this position leave Sessions on the political spectrum?

He’s in good company in the GOP: A recent CBS poll shows that a significant majority of Republicans — 57 percent — believe that unemployment benefits make people less motivated to seek jobs. For Tea Party Republicans, this majority increases to a staggering 67 percent.

Sessions’ position finds him in direct conflict with a majority of registered voters, however. A recent Quinnipiac survey shows that 58 percent support extending benefits for the long-term unemployed.

Furthermore, the entire notion that social safety net programs encourage the unemployed to not seek work puts Sessions and other Republicans at odds with reality. A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco shows that unemployment benefits do not discourage people from taking jobs. On the contrary, the programs are, overall,  beneficial to the economy. “It did not reduce the job finding rate,” Henry Farber, co-author of the study, told the Huffington Post in May.

Farber further explained that unemployment benefits stimulate the economy: “These are people who spend the money you give them.”

But although the Republican position on the social safety net is unpopular with voters and void of any serious economic support, it still rears its ugly head every so often. And Republican lawmakers aren’t afraid to act on their rhetoric. On Thursday, a bill that would extend benefits for the long-term unemployed once again failed to gain enough Republican support to move forward through the Senate.

Even if the legislation somehow did pass the Senate, as congressmen like Pete Sessions have made it clear, it would face insurmountable obstacles in the House of Representatives.

It’s no surprise: for Republicans, it’s an issue of morality, not politics.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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