Congressman’s Wife Collects Unemployment and Right-wing Gets It Wrong

by David Duhalde

David Duhalde

Reports that Nevada GOP representative Joe Heck’s wife, Lisa,  collected unemployment insurance made headlines in the Silver State.  Lisa’s joblessness wasn’t the story; it was Joe’s occasional votes against federal unemployment extensions.  Now some conservative op-eds are using this as an opportunity to ridicule anti-asset test public policy.   Let’s see how the arguments stack up.

By all accounts, Joe Heck is not a libertarian hypocrite (cf: Ron Paul taking Social Security).  Rep. Heck has voted for some extensions, and tried to opt out of the federal pension.  In addition, his family would pass an assets test.  They have over $80,000 more in liabilities than assets.  The Hecks’ finances stick out as average Americans in the millionaires’ club that is called Congress.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal cites criticism of Rep. Heck as Democrats not being “progressive.”  They write:

In the first place, the attacks on the congressman’s spouse aren’t very “progressive.” Lisa Heck did nothing wrong. She isn’t running for office. The choices made here were hers. Liberals quite correctly insist that husbands and wives are free to have separate careers, and that the career choices of one should not be held against the other – unless the wife in question is married to a GOP congressman, apparently.

No. That’s not what people are arguing.  What people find odd is a husband, who is not independently wealthy, who is willing to vote against programs that benefit his wife and family.  If anything, it seems the Democrats are more concerned with family values than the Republican critics.

More cynically, the paper uses this as an opportunity to support asset testing.   Unemployment insurance is solely based on your attachment to the labor market; assets have no effect on whether one collects.  They draw a twisted analogy comparing the welfare program of EBT (food stamps) to the New Deal program of insurance here:

But Democrats defeated the food stamp asset test, indicating they’re all for allowing a multimillion-dollar lottery winner collect food stamps. So how can they then imply that Lisa Heck did something wrong in drawing her unemployment insurance benefits because her husband earns $174,000 a year and has that much again in some retirement account?

No again.  First, Democrats think what Lisa Heck did is absolutely fine.  She made an individual choice to apply and get unemployment insurance.  Her husband also made a choice to vote against a two month extension of the program.  His actions are up for debate, not hers.  But the non-analogous asset comparison is the most troubling.

The paper never cites what the asset limit actual was.  It is fair to imagine it wasn’t $1,000,000.  Nor do they tell any stories of the poor selling cars and minimal wealth to qualify for assistance for food.  The asset tests are a regressive measure which take away wealth to those who need it the most.  I always found it odd for conservatives, who call for an ownership society, to create barriers to building wealth.  But, then again, God forbid a Democrat support the public sector.  Such socialism is only good for Lisa Heck.


David Duhalde is a member of Boston DSA and a Graduate Student at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. 


One Response

  1. […] Congressman’s Wife Collects Unemployment and Right-wing Gets It Wrong ( […]

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