Washington – President Barack Obama on Monday escalated his attacks on Republicans, blasting them for opposing an extension of benefits for the out-of-work while pushing tax cuts for the wealthy.
Obama appeared with three out-of-work Americans whose benefits have expired or are about to expire, saying they are victims of a Republican minority in the Senate that has three times blocked an extension of the benefits.
“After years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, 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 like Jim, or Leslie, or Denise, who really do need help,” Obama said.
He was joined in the White House Rose Garden by Jim Chukalas, a laid-off auto parts manager from Fredon Township, N.J.; Leslie Macko, an out-of-work aesthetician from Charlottesville, Va.; and Denise Gibson, an unemployed maintenance supervisor from Queens, N.Y.
Obama wants the Senate to approve the benefits extension — a vote now expected on Tuesday — without paying the cost with offsetting spending cuts or tax increases.
He said that’s the way it’s been done in the past — with Republican support — and that it should be done that way now even against growing concerns about trillion-dollar deficits.
“For a long time, there’s been a tradition, under both Democratic and Republican presidents, to offer relief to the unemployed,” Obama said. “That was certainly the case under my predecessor, when Republican senators voted several times to extend emergency unemployment benefits.”
In recent weeks, he said, Republicans have blocked efforts to extend the benefits without any accompanying way to pay for them.
“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 Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the minority leader in the House of Representatives.
“At a time of record debt and deficits made worse by Washington Democrats’ massive spending spree, that’s the right thing to do and the right way to do it,” Boehner said. “The American people are asking, ‘Where are the jobs?’ and President Obama continues to offer only disingenuous attacks, not answers.”
In his Saturday radio address, Obama contrasted Republican demands that Congress pay for the jobless benefits with Republicans pleas to extend temporary tax cuts for those making more than $200,000 without any way to pay for them.
That would add $391 billion to the deficit over 10 years.
“So after years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, including a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, they’ve finally decided to make their stand on the backs of the unemployed,” he said.
“They’ve got no problem spending money on tax breaks for folks at the top who don’t need them and didn’t even ask for them; but they object to helping folks laid off in this recession who really do need help. And every day this goes on, another 50,000 Americans lose that badly needed lifeline.”
Obama’s criticism offered an early look at a campaign pitch for this fall, when Democrats will be fighting to keep control of the Congress.
But it omitted key facts — most notably the Democrats’ role in prolonging the standoff over the jobless benefits.
While Republicans have voted almost unanimously against extensions because they have not been paid for, they have also offered several plans this year to continue the jobless benefits — and pay for them.
But Democrats have been reluctant to even consider their proposals.
On June 30, nearly a month after funds for the extended benefits had run out, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky offered a two-month extension, paid for with unused and unobligated economic stimulus funds.
“Let’s be clear about the principle that is really at stake here,” McConnell said. “Are Democrats willing to extend these programs without adding to the debt?”
Apparently not, at least not that day. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., refused to allow a vote on McConnell’s plan.
“We as a Congress — Democrats and Republicans — have always extended unemployment benefits because it is an emergency,” he said.
After that, the Senate left Washington for a 12-day Independence Day recess, and the number of people who lost benefits grew to an estimated 2.5 million.
Republicans on Monday were angry, noting that the Democrats’ benefit plan is likely to pass by the end of the week. Once newly appointed Sen. Carte Goodwin, named Friday to replace the late Sen. Robert Byrd, is sworn into office Tuesday at 2:15 p.m., the Senate plans to immediately vote on cutting off debate on the measure.
Last month, the vote fell one short of the 60 needed; Goodwin, a Democrat, is expected to provide that 60th vote.
McConnell said in a statement Monday that the GOP would not relent in its opposition.
“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,” he said.
“If we can’t pay for a program like extension of unemployment insurance that virtually every member of the Senate — I think, in fact, every member of the Senate wants to extend, then what are we going to pay for? When do we start?”