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Eric Hovde, GOP Senate Candidate, Backed Some Stimulus Provisions, Unemployment Benefits In 2009

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Businessman Eric Hovde is running for the GOP nomination to fill Wisconsin's open U.S. Senate seat in 2012.
Businessman Eric Hovde is running for the GOP nomination to fill Wisconsin's open U.S. Senate seat in 2012.

WASHINGTON -- Last week, Wisconsin GOP Senate candidate Eric Hovde fended off criticisms that he was anti-poor after he said he was tired of reading "sob stor[ies]" about people who can't get their food stamps.

But three years ago, Hovde advocated for federal assistance to states to extend benefits for out-of-work Americans -- a position at odds with many in the Republican Party.

In March 2009, Hovde appeared on CNBC in his position as head of the hedge fund Hovde Capital Advisors and chief investment officer of private equity firm Hovde Acquisition LLC.

During the segment, Hovde sharply criticized the Obama administration and federal policies, saying the country basically faced a "quasi-socialist government system." But he also seemed to find a few areas of agreement with the administration, some involving the stimulus.

Hovde said the stimulus "should have focused on those things that were going to have long-lasting beneficial impacts." He said that while the legislation was supposed to focus on rebuilding infrastructure -- such as spending on high-speed rail -- Democrats instead pushed for pet projects and "overreach[ed]."

During this discussion, the host asked Hovde whether health care reform was "something that your kids and grandkids" would want. Hovde did not answer directly, but instead said he did, indeed, believe there were some areas -- such as unemployment benefits and aid for police forces -- where the federal government should get involved:

Look, I think there are things that they need to do. Again, I'm not going to be overly critical on all things. Some of the allocations to the states to make sure that our police force is intact, I understand. Extending jobless benefits -- it's important. A lot of people are out of jobs. So I don't have a problem with allocations of resources to some of those things. But the degree and scope that they've moved is stunning, as far as I'm concerned.

In 2008, Congress began adding additional weeks of federal unemployment benefits. The stimulus bill reauthorized the additional weeks legislators added, and it boosted weekly checks by $25. Later in 2009, Congress added more weeks that out-of-work Americans could receive benefits.

Hovde spokesman Sean Lansing clarified Hovde's position in a statement to The Huffington Post, saying that the candidate wants to "scale back" unemployment benefits now.

"We cannot extend benefits indefinitely, because it provides a disincentive to labor participation and drives people from the work force. We need to scale back the extensions and return the benefit period to its historical norm," Lansing wrote.

Congress, in fact, is already doing this. In February, lawmakers agreed to shorten the duration of unemployment benefits, and those cuts are gradually taking effect.

Extended unemployment insurance fell out of favor with Republican members of Congress in 2010, in large part because lawmakers were worried about the impact the benefits would have on the deficit.

Hovde is one of four candidates vying for the GOP Senate nomination. Former governor Tommy Thompson has the most name recognition and leads in the polls. Widely remembered as a moderate governor, the other three candidates -- Hovde, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald and former congressman Mark Neumann -- have been running significantly to the right of Thompson, hoping to capture the votes of fiscal conservatives.

On taxes, Hovde said during the CNBC interview, "Look, I have no problem with me getting charged higher taxes. I've been blessed in my life, and I've been very fortunate. But some of the things that they've done are just insane. Taking away deductions on home mortgage payments -- I don't need it, but a lot of other people -- we're in a housing recession. Are you kidding me?"

Hovde has since explained several of these comments, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in April that he wasn't supporting some sort of Buffett Rule.

"I'm almost certain that discussion was in regards to, you know, I would be willing to pay more in taxes from the standpoint (of) 'get rid of the carried interest,'" he said.

Hovde has also since said it would be "perverse" to support high-speed rail in Wisconsin. Gov. Scott Walker (R) has rejected federal funds for such a project. Walker has, however, expressed support for high-speed rail on the East and West coasts.

On health care, Lansing said Hovde believes the system must be reformed, but "a trillion-dollar, 2,700-page overhaul that hardly anybody bothered to read is not the answer."

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