By Sandy Fitzgerald
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says he supports extending emergency unemployment benefits, but there must be conditions and reforms that help people get jobs.
"What people want is freedom and opportunity," the Republican governor told CNN "State of the Union" host Candy Crowley Sunday. "You don't get that through the government."
Americans won't get that opportunity through "artificially" raising minimum wages, as many states have been doing, or by extending unemployment benefits without requiring people to get the tools they need to find jobs, said Walker.
Earlier in the show, President Barack Obama's top economic adviser, Gene Sperling, told Crowley that the White House will continue to push for the emergency long-term unemployment benefits, which ended on Jan. 1, to be reinstated.
"The White House is pushing this because they want desperately to take focus away from Obamacare," Walker told Crowley. "Any discussion should be focused on what kind of reforms should take place."
For example, at one point long-term job seekers only had to look for work twice a week, but a that rule was tweaked to require they look five times a week.
"If I was unemployed, I'd look more than two times a week," said Walker, saying he'd look every day except for Sunday, when he'd go to church and pray he'd find a job.
And in Wisconsin, jobless people without children are required to be involved in job training programs in order to collect unemployment benefits, he pointed out.
Meanwhile, Walker said, many states are enacting minimum wage hikes that are a more artificial boost that is not helping people get ahead.
Fast food restaurants are a great place to start out working, Walker said, noting that he and Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan both worked at McDonald's restaurants within miles of each other when they were younger.
But instead of relying on minimum wage hikes, Walker said, it's better for people to get training for higher-paying jobs, such as in welding, nursing and more instead of depending on minimum wage raises.
"With this bureaucratic mess, it makes it difficult for people to get the training they need," said Walker.
The governor said that such programs haven't always worked because states have not put money behind such programs.
"You've got to put your money where your mouth is," said Walker. "Why a lot of states don't make childless adults work is because they don't put money behind it."
Meanwhile, Sperling echoed the president's call Saturday for Republicans to restore the unemployment benefits for the more than one million Americans who have been out of work for more than six months.
The measure will come up for its first procedural vote before the Senate on Monday when it returns from its holiday recess, reports CNN, but Democrats are not sure if there is enough Republican support to extend the benefits.
Sperling said the Republicans' position on the benefits is "cruel" while making a milestone in cutting off emergency unemployment benefits while the nation's out-of-work rate remains high, at 7 percent.
"We have never cut off emergency unemployment benefits when the unemployment rate is this high," Sperling said. "Tomorrow is actually the day that 1.3 million Americans will go to the mailbox and find that check missing, the check that they rely on to put food on their table."
On the CNN show Sunday, though, he questioned Republican motives behind the unemployment cuts and other issues, especially when it comes to job creation, and said it will be "harmful" for the GOP politically to take on another fight on the debt limit..
He said that the GOP's action in shutting off unemployment insurance seems more about politics than protecting Americans against "the worst legacy of the Great Recession."
"The question is: Is the only reason people want to work together on jobs politics?" Sperling said. Or are we here to try to create jobs, strengthen the middle class, deal with inequality, have each other’s backs in hard times?"
Sperling is leaving office this month when Obama will replace him with Jefffrey Zients, a top aide who has filled in as acting budget director and who led a White House effort to streamline government, and refused to make a great deal of speculation about what will happen economically in the upcoming year.
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