KIRK CRYSTALLIZES CONTEMPORARY CONSERVATISM…. Mark Kirk (R), who will be sworn in as a U.S. senator today, recently boasted of his desire to join the chamber’s “Mod Squad” — his name for the small contingent of Republican moderates with great influence in the Senate.

But on economic policy, Kirk, perhaps best known for his borderline-pathological dishonesty about his background, is anything but moderate.

The Republican told MSNBC this morning, for example, that all of the Bush-era tax rates have to be extended “no matter what.”

“We should extend the Bush tax cuts and make sure we don’t have a double-dip recession. And I have the honor to be the first of ninety-five new Republicans, fiscal conservatives, to help right our ship of state.”

And in the same interview, Kirk was asked whether he’s against extending unemployment benefits for those still struggling in the weak economy. He replied:

“That’s right. You could extend it if you found a way to pay for it. And I voted for that in the past. But these proposals to extend unemployment insurance by just adding it to the deficit are misguided.”

And there it is in a nutshell — massive tax cuts, adding trillions to the debt, should be passed without hesitation, and without thinking too much about the fact that they don’t actually help the economy much. Aid to the jobless, however, which has enormous stimulative benefits, must be rejected, despite their much lower costs.

This couldn’t offer a more clear contrast. On the one hand, we have hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts that will benefit millionaires and billionaires, and all of which would be added to the deficit. Kirk supports the cuts “no matter what.”

On the other hand, we have 2.5 million Americans, all of whom are struggling badly, poised to lose jobless benefits. These benefits, which cost about $60 billion a year, tend to have an impressive stimulative effect — when the unemployed get a check, they spend it — which improves the larger economy. Kirk sees this as “misguided.”

We can afford hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks that don’t work, but we can’t afford tens of billions of dollars in benefits that do work.

It’s all about priorities.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.