WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner on Thursday expressed his dissatisfaction with a chronically high jobless rate and complained of a “very sick idea” that the unemployed would “rather just sit around.”
The top House Republican said there were a “record number of Americans stuck” and that government had an “obligation to help provide tools for them to use to bring them into the mainstream of American society.”
The U.S. unemployment rate was 6.1 percent in August, down from 10 percent in October 2009.
Boehner’s remarks were in response to a question following a speech he delivered to the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute in which he laid out broad ideas for improving the U.S. economy.
The question was about plans that have been offered by politicians ranging from Democratic President Barack Obama to Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan to expand an earned-income tax credit for the poor.
Boehner then lamented “this idea that has been born, maybe out of the economy over the last couple years, that you know, I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around. This is a very sick idea for our country.”
As he has done many times in the past, Boehner talked about his large family of 11 brothers and sisters, saying that as a youngster he mopped floors in the bar his father owned, delivered newspapers, cut grass and took other odd jobs.
“If you wanted something you worked for it,” Boehner said, adding, “Trust me, I did it all.”
The House Speaker concluded his remarks on the subject by saying that Ryan’s ideas on expanding the tax credit for the poor “has an awful lot of merit.”
Ryan, a conservative who ran unsuccessfully for vice president in 2012 and is mentioned as a possible 2016 candidate for president, angered some Democrats in Congress earlier this year when he talked about the causes of inner-city poverty.
During a talk-radio interview, the Wisconsin Republican spoke of a “tailspin of culture in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value of work.”
Ryan later said his remarks were “inarticulate.”
At the time, Representative Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, said Ryan’s remarks were a “thinly veiled racial attack” in which “inner-city” was a code word for “black.”
Following Boehner’s speech, a spokesman said he was not saying jobless Americans are unemployed because of laziness.
“He talked about the problem of record unemployment and made the case that too many government programs don’t do enough to encourage a culture of work, rather than dependency,” said spokesman Kevin Smith.
Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Lisa Shumaker