IT’S REALLY NOT THAT COMPLICATED…. At midnight, 2.5 million unemployed Americans will lose their benefits — the first time in generations that jobless aid has expired with the unemployment rate this high. Democrats in Congress and the White House support an extension, but don’t have the votes to pass one.

And as awful as this is for the struggling families who rely on these benefits, the expiration of the aid undermines the larger economy at the same time. On MSNBC this morning, Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) captured Republican confusion on this, in response to questions from Mike Barnicle.

BARNICLE: What about the fact that unemployment benefits pumped into the economy are an immediate benefit to the economy? Immediate…

SHADEGG: No, they’re not! Unemployed people hire people? Really? I didn’t know that.

BARNICLE: Unemployed people spend money Congressman, ’cause they have no money.

SHADEGG: Aha! So your answer is it’s the spending of money that drives the economy and I don’t think that’s right. It’s the creation of jobs that drives the economy…. Job creators create jobs.

Watching the video of the exchange, I’m inclined to believe Shadegg actually believed what he was saying. With that in mind, I have no interest in questioning his sincerity.

It’s his intelligence I have a problem with. This really isn’t complicated — when the unemployed get a check, they spend it. When it comes to getting a strong bang for the buck, jobless benefits have proven to be one of the best economic stimuli in policymakers’ tool-belt.

Shadegg believes job creation boosts the economy, but there’s a little detail he’s struggling with: businesses need customers. When 2.5 million people stop spending, businesses lose customers, which in turn makes them less likely to hire employees.

The data on this is incontrovertible. If Republicans want what’s best for the economy, why can’t they think this through?

Also note the larger, Dickensian context — Republicans are fighting tooth and nail for $700 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest people in the country, but they’re poised to kill extended unemployment benefits for those struggling to find work in a weak economy, at a fraction of the cost.

Raising taxes on the rich under these circumstances is considered madness. Leaving jobless Americans with no benefits and no buying power under these circumstances is considered responsible.

This isn’t a surprise, of course. Republicans have repeatedly argued throughout the recession that those struggling to find work in the midst of a jobs crisis are lazy and quite possibly drug addicts. Of course they’re prepared to screw over the people most in need of assistance; they just don’t like the unemployed.

But as the recovery continues to struggle, Republican opposition to jobless aid only guarantees more struggling, weaker economic activity, and more poverty. It’s an easily-preventable disaster, which GOP officials in Congress are willing to just watch unfold.

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Steve Benen

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.