Wisconsin Democratic congresswoman Gwen Moore ridiculed a Republican colleague for sharing the story of his impoverished upbringing during a Wednesday committee hearing.
Rep. Kevin Hern (R., Okla.) began his remarks before the House Ways and Means Committee by recalling his poverty-stricken childhood. Hern noted that he grew up unsure "if the lights would still be on … or if there would be food on the table" when he got home from school, adding that his stepfather developed a "dependence on government aid" that incentivized him to "stay home rather than work."
For Hern, the anecdote showed that he "personally understood" the GOP's opposition to a proposed five-month unemployment boost in President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. For Moore, it was a "boogeyman troll" attempt to ignore the plight of children "languishing in poverty."
"Listen, colleagues, the lazy stepfather welfare queen boogeyman troll must not be paraded out again to steer us from our imperative to intervene in this national crisis," Moore said. "These families, these children, need our help right now."
House and Senate Republicans have expressed concerns with the generous expansion of unemployment insurance throughout the pandemic, contending that the policy would prolong America's economic downturn by compelling workers to leave their jobs in favor of government payouts. J.P. Freire, Republican spokesman at Ways and Means, argued that while Democrats are free to debate the policy stance, they should refrain from mocking Hern's misfortune.
"Any familiarity with crushing poverty and its terrible correlation with abuse/neglect might not want to dunk on someone sharing how their experience motivated them to escape it," Freire said in a Wednesday tweet. "Disagree with his policy point, sure, but maybe don't mock hardship."
Moore's office did not return a request for comment. Her mockery was echoed in leftist media, with Huffington Post reporter Arthur Delaney writing that Hern "opposes Democrats' plan for expanded unemployment in part because it reminds him of his loser stepdad who wouldn't work. Intense."
Biden's relief proposal calls for a weekly $400 boost in unemployment, which runs through late August and comes on top of any state-provided benefits. Hern maintained that the payments would stifle U.S. economic growth, stating the need to "put America back to work."
"We must connect workers with reopening jobs, not pay them to stay out of the workforce," Hern said during the hearing. "Our economy will recover as quickly or as slowly as we can get Americans back to work."
Congressional Democrats have also pushed back on the relief bill's unemployment benefits, albeit for different reasons. Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), for example, has called for the boost to rise to $600 per week—the same payment offered under the CARES Act. He also wants to extend the provision through September.
Some small business owners, however, echoed Republican concerns over increased benefits following the CARES Act's passage in March. Daniel Johnson, the owner of a New Orleans-based construction company, said at the time that the legislation led to a mass exodus of employees, even though the city had deemed Johnson's work "essential."
"The majority of my team's last day was 3/13," Johnson told the Washington Free Beacon in April. "Most focused on fear of bringing the virus home to weak family members young and old. I get it, but our work allows them to have substantial space between each other. Most are desperately waiting for unemployment benefits and are not interested in returning to work anytime soon. Very frustrating as an employer."