In an interview today with "Fox News Sunday," Alaska GOP Senate nominee Joe Miller had trouble explaining how he would help the 43.6 million Americans in poverty, even as host Chris Wallace repeatedly pressed him for more than conservative talking points.
Wallace asked Miller about his assertion in August on CBS's "Face the Nation" that unemployment benefits are unconstitutional, noting that without them, many more Americans would be in poverty. "What would you do for them?" asked Wallace.
Miller, however, struggled to come up with an answer, and instead shifted to talking points about reducing the size of the federal government. Wallace repeatedly pressed him on the issue, without ever receiving an actual response:
MILLER: I think the question is what is the role of the federal government? Right now we've grown the federal government into such a size we have, I think we have, what -- in absolute terms now, $13.4 trillion in debt. If you look at the future unfunded obligation, a lot of those are the entitlement programs, by some estimates $130 trillion. That is unsustainable. That's just the facts. And I think Americans recognize that those are the facts. The exciting thing is Americans are looking for answers. Alaskans are looking for answers. Here in Alaska, 40 percent of our economy in Alaska is somewhat derived from the federal government. If we continue say things have to continue the way they are, the expansion from the government which is unconstitutional in many ways is the future, it's a dead-end road. Particularly for this state, because of the impending bankruptcy --
WALLACE: Mr. Miller, if I may, I'm not sure you answered my question. Why are unemployment benefits unconstitutional? In the time of a tough economy, recession, and now kind of a jobless recovery, what are you going to do for the 44 million people who are living in poverty?
MILLER: I think what you need to look at is the context. We had an extension of unemployment benefits several weeks ago, which is beyond what we had in the past in this country. What we have in this country is an entitlement mentality. Entitlement, not just as individual but even at the state level. If all goes wrong, it's the federal government's role to get in there and provide for the general welfare and provide for solvency; particularly, of states and the auto companies, and the banks. Everything else that fails, the government should be involved in bailing out. The Constitution provides enumerated powers. I guess my challenge is to anybody that asks, show me the enumerated power. And then look at the 10th amendment that says if it's not done in the Constitution, it's a power that belongs to the state and the people. And I think we as a people need to stop being disingenuous about what the Constitution provides for. It does not provide for this all-encompassing power that we've seen exercised for last several decades. It's what got us in the bankrupt position.
Miller's views on unemployment benefits are further to the right than the positions of many Republicans in Congress, who oppose extending them if they aren't paid for, but haven't gone as far as to say that they're unconstitutional.
Wallace also seemed frustrated when Miller tried to dodge his question about how he would change the way the Republican Party operates in Washington. He again brought out his talking points about "restricting the growth and actually reversing the growth of government and in the process transferring power to the state" and shifted the discussion to the federal government's role in Alaska. "But I'm asking you more than just Alaska," responded Wallace. "You made that point clear. How would you like to see the GOP handle things differently in Washington on issues that affect the whole country?" Miller stuck to his message though, saying, "What is good for Alaska is good for the country. Transferring power from the federal government to the states provides opportunity to all states."
Miller continued his give-it-to-the states theme when asked about Social Security and Medicare. He admitted that there is currently a "contract" between the federal government and the millions of Americans who have paid into Social Security and therefore expect to receive benefits, but said that longer term, "we aren't going to have the funds in the future. We have to look at all options. I think the states are an option. I think making sure that I can put my money where the government can't steal it is a critical factor that has to be considered. If you look at the system and say we don't need reform, forget about it, plug our head in the sand, this bankruptcy's going to go away -- that is entirely irresponsible. And again, that's a failed approach that Murkowski and others in the Senate not giving us solutions but basically the American people don't worry about it. Everything will be okay. Despite the fact we have $13.4 trillion of debt."
As the Anchorage Daily News has reported, "Miller has called for across-the-board cuts, phasing out government Medicare and Social Security, and getting rid of the federal Department of Education because it is not in the Constitution, leaving the function to the states. He's going well beyond positions that Palin advocated when she was running to be governor of the state and those she espoused as governor."
UPDATE: Here's the Supreme Court case that affirmed the constitutionality of the Social Security Act (which includes unemployment benefits).