President Obama said today that the federal government has a responsibility to assist the nation's unemployed as they look for work and urged Senate Republicans to put politics aside and join Democrats to pass an unemployment benefits extension.
"It's time to stop holding workers laid off in this recession hostage to Washington politics. It's time to do what's right, not for the next election, but for the middle class," the president said in the Rose Garden this morning. "We've got to stop blocking emergency relief for Americans who are out of work. We've got to extend unemployment insurance."
On Tuesday afternoon, Senate Democrats will swear in West Virginia's new senator, Carte Goodwin, expected to be the crucial 60th vote on the long delayed bill. Within 15 minutes of his swearing-in, the Senate is expected to vote on extending unemployment benefits.
Obama said today that passing the extension is "essential."
"We've got a responsibility to help them make ends meet and support their families, even as they are looking for another job," he said.
The unemployment insurance package, which expired on June 2, would extend benefits until Nov. 30.
Senate Democrats have struggled to pass the contentious package on four separate occasions despite weeks of debate and negotiations. In their last attempt at the end of June, Democrats failed to restore the benefits package after Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska voted against the bill. Two moderate Republicans -- Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe -- have pledged to support the measure.
Goodwin's appointment to the Senate on Tuesday to replace the late Sen. Robert Byrd virtually guarantees 60 votes for Democrats but no other Republicans have spoken in favor of the package, a point that Obama addressed today.
Obama slammed a "partisan minority" in the Senate for using parliamentary maneuvers to block votes on the unemployment benefits extension, which he said amounted to "denying millions of people who are out of work much-needed relief."
"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," the president said. "That attitude, I think, reflects a lack of faith in the American people."
GOP senators say their opposition stems from the $34 billion cost of the bill, which they argue should be funded by the $787 billion stimulus package or somewhere else in the budget.
"The budget is over a trillion dollars, too, and somewhere in the course of spending a trillion dollars, we ought to be able to find enough to pay for a program for the unemployed," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Sunday. "We're all for extending unemployment insurance. The question is when are we going to get serious about the debt"?
McConnell charged the Obama White House with going on "an incredible spending spree"
The nation's unemployment rate edged down to 9.5 percent in June, with 14.6 million Americans out of work. The rate has continued to hover around a historic 10 percent as the economy struggles to recover. So far 2.5 million people have been affected by the June 2 lapse in unemployment benefits.
Obama was joined in the Rose Garden this morning by three Americans who he said represent the many Americans who are not looking for a handout but just want to get back to work.