Setting markers for the legislative debate ahead, presidential candidate Herman Cain said he opposed reauthorizing extended unemployment benefits that allow up to 99 weeks of benefits for the longterm jobless. Without the reauthorization, workers laid off after July 1 of this year will receive only six months of assistance.
"Where do we stop?" he asked Candy Crowley during an interview on CNN's "State of the Union." "Here again, extending unemployment benefits, extending the cut in the payroll tax are just distractions from the bigger problem, which is lack of economic growth which has not been there. Secondly, we're spending money we do not have."
"It's unfortunate that people are unemployed," he continued. "This is one of the reasons that i have proposed a bold plan to get this economy going which you know is 9-9-9. People need to go -- want to go back to work. That's the good news. But this economy's not producing the jobs in order to get 14 million people that are unemployed back to work."
Earlier in the program, Cain reluctantly said he backed extending the payroll tax cut that, like unemployment benefits, is set to expire at the end of the year. But with both items he argued that it would be preferable for Congress to overtake significant tax reform instead.
"If the president were to go to Congress and say, 'I want to lower personal income taxes and corporate taxes by a significant amount in order to do something such that next year will not be an economic flatline,' I believe he would get that support," Cain said. "It simply is not in his DNA. So no. Taking a position on extending unemployment benefits, or leaving that two percentage point reduction in payroll taxes, that's not working on the right problem. That's my point."
The notion that Congress should tackle comprehensive tax reform rather than extend the payroll tax cut or unemployment benefits essentially ignores the past year and a half of legislative inaction. There is simply no willpower, desire or time to get something like that done before the end of the year. Cain is promoting the idea of larger reform in order to avoid addressing more pressing issues.
And yet, by coming out against future unemployment insurance, the former Godfather's Pizza CEO does set the conservative line on the expiring program. Republican lawmakers have gone from supporting unemployment benefits to demanding that they be paid for in full. Now, if Cain's stance is any indication, they may be willing to scrap them entirely.