President Obama today called on Republicans in Congress to stop blocking efforts to extend jobless benefits, arguing that providing unemployment insurance to people who are out of work is the government's responsibility.
Some 2.5 million people have already lost access to this emergency relief, and those numbers are growing by the week. The White House believes helping the unemployed would boost consumer spending and help spur the economic recovery. But Republicans argue this kind of assistance should not be paid for through emergency spending that adds to the deficit; they say it should be paid for, for instance, by using unspent stimulus funds.
"For a long time there's been a tradition, under both Democratic and Republican presidents, to offer relief to the unemployed," Obama said during his brief Rose Garden statement, pointing out that under President Bush, Republican senators voted several times to extend emergency unemployment benefits. "It's time to stop holding workers laid off in this recession hostage to Washington politics."
In fact, passage of the extension of unemployment insurance -- after three failed attempts in recent weeks -- is all but assured tomorrow when it comes up for a vote again, because Democrats will have one more senator added to their ranks with the swearing in of Carte Goodwin (D), who will replace the late West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd (D). Democrats have already gained the support of the two Maine Republicans, Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.
Today's remarks -- at which three unemployed Americans joined the president on stage -- were intended to paint Republicans as the party of special interests and the wealthy, and to show voters that the Democratic Party is on the side of working people. That was a theme then-candidate Obama was successful in using during the 2008 presidential campaign.
"I have to say, after years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, the same people who didn't have any problems spending hundreds of billions of dollars on tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are now saying we shouldn't offer relief to middle-class Americans," Obama said.
"These leaders in the Senate who are advancing a misguided notion that emergency relief somehow discourages people from looking for a job should talk to these folks," he added, indicating the three people on stage with him. "That attitude, I think, reflects a lack of faith in the American people."
The president said that even though the country was nearing the midterm elections, there are times when you put politics aside. He also pushed Congress to approve tax cuts for small businesses and help for lending to small businesses, where most of America's jobs are created.