GOP lawmaker used soldiers to defend his vote to hurt the poor


Wisconsin's Dale Kooyenga voted to help companies prey on low-income citizens and saddle them with mountains of debt — and he made an absurd, insulting reference to military service members as an excuse to do it.

Wisconsin state Rep. Dale Kooyenga voted this year to help companies prey on low-income citizens by weakening oversight of the predatory rent-to-own industry.

And the absurd excuse he used to defend this vote?

"Sometimes a man wants a couch, or a female soldier wants a couch," Kooyenga said, concocting a strange hypothetical situation where a soldier would seek out rent-to-own furniture while stationed somewhere.

Rent-to-own businesses sell products like furniture, electronics, and appliances that are paid for via weekly or monthly payments. But the industry has a notorious reputation for charging consumers high interest rates, using the lure of modern comforts and conveniences to lock low-income people into piles of debt.

One of Kooyenga's fellow Republicans introduced a bill that would have exempted this predatory industry from oversight under the Wisconsin Consumer Act.

Under the bill, rent-to-own businesses would no longer be required to disclose their annual interest rates. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has found that rent-to-own interest rates can range from 100 to 350 percent.

When the bill was introduced, Democrat Gordon Hintz, the minority leader of the Assembly, slammed it as "an opportunity to profit off of the least fortunate in our society."

But Kooyenga didn't see things that way. He didn't just vote for the bill; he also made the absurd, insulting argument that Wisconsin should hurt poor people because soldiers might want a couch — when soldiers themselves are also frequent victims of predatory industries.

The Wisconsin Catholic Conference blasted the proposed bill in a statement. "We know from our charitable work that those who are least able to pay for goods often end up paying the most," the group noted.

The legislation passed the Assembly, with Kooyenga's help, but was later killed in the Senate.

The shameful vote, and the even more shameful excuse he used to support it, is yet another black mark on Kooyenga's record.

Kooyenga has pushed a tax plan that would lower rates for the super-wealthy while increasing taxes for the poor. He has even received backing from the multi-billionaire right-wing Koch Brothers for his work to help the super-rich get richer.

At every turn, Kooyenga has consistently advocated against Wisconsinites who struggle to make ends meet.