President Obama pressed Senate Republicans to dismantle their blockade of the unemployment benefits extension package in a Rose Garden speech Monday, and asked members to abandon election year politics that he said are holding the unemployed "hostage."
Republicans have blocked the extension of jobless benefits, which expired in the beginning of June, three times. They cite the soaring national deficit and limited funds. Obama criticized the GOP for voting in favor of emergency unemployment insurance under President Bush but against it in recent weeks. [See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.]
"The same people who didn't have any problem 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," said Obama, who argued jobless benefits are not handouts, but temporary relief to help those actively seeking work to cover basic living expenses.
But the Republican leadership has said they are wary of the costs involved in passing the near $34 billion package that Democrats will vote on Tuesday, immediately after West Virginia Democrat Carte Goodwin is sworn in to the Senate to replace the late Sen. Robert Byrd. Goodwin will give Democrats the 60th vote necessary to block a filibuster.
"We're all for extending unemployment insurance," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on CNN's State of the Nation on Sunday. "The question is, when are we going to get serious" about the increasing deficit. [See where McConnell's campaign cash comes from.]
This is not the first time Obama has blamed Republicans for the expiration of unemployment benefits. In his weekly video address Saturday, the president said, "We can't afford to go back to the same misguided policies that led us into this mess. We need to move forward with the policies that are leading us out of this mess."
House Minority Leader John Boehner called Obama's Saturday remarks "disingenuous attacks. The president knows that Republicans support extending unemployment insurance, and doing it in a fiscally-responsible way by cutting spending elsewhere in the $3 trillion federal budget," said Boehner in a statement. [See who donates to Boehner's campaigns.]