Standing With the Unemployed

Today’s image from the Rose Garden was a potent one: President Obama, standing with three of America’s long-term jobless, calling on Congress to end the Republican filibuster of unemployment benefits and calling out Senate conservatives for their hypocrisy. In today’s political climate, it’s an image that ought to be displayed a lot more often, especially when coupled with concrete, progressive proposals to put those unemployed people back to work.

Obama’s appeal comes as Congress appears poised on Tuesday afternoon to finally vote to continue extended unemployment benefits that have been cut off due to 48 days of Senate conservative stonewalling. If Senate Democrats get the 60 votes to proceed to a final vote as expected, it will only be because of the appointment of Carte Goodwin to fill the seat of the late West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd.

By Obama’s side were Jim Chukalas, Leslie Macko and Denise Gibson. Chukalas has exhausted his unemployment benefits, according to the White House; Macko and Gibson are about to. All three are feeling the consequences of a job market that Leo Gerard today describes as “a cruel game of musical chairs,” in which five unemployed people compete for a seat as an employed worker.

In his six-minute address, Obama laid out in succinct terms the contrast between the majority in both houses of Congress seeking to continue extended unemployment benefits and the position of the obstructionist minority.

And for a long time, there’s been a tradition –- under both Democratic and Republican Presidents –- to offer relief to the unemployed. That was certainly the case under my predecessor, when Republican senators voted several times to extend emergency unemployment benefits. But right now, these benefits –- benefits that are often the person’s sole source of income while they’re looking for work -– are in jeopardy.

And 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 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 need help.

Bloomberg reported earlier today that the Senate conservatives who once chided Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., this past spring for being the first and most vociferous opponent of extending unemployment benefits without offsetting budget cuts are now bear-hugging his position. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., is quoted as saying effusively, “Our party caught up with the people Bunning was already with.”

But they happen to have left behind the majority that disagreed with Bunning. In both the Washington Post/ABC News and CBS News polls, more than 50 percent of Americans agreed with President Obama’s position that extended unemployment aid should be continued in today’s economy, even if that means adding to the deficit.

We’ve been saying repeatedly that much of the political tumult elected officials are feeling as they enter the fall election season is because people are looking for their elected officials to stand up for Main Street and a recovery for working people that matches the recovery that’s happening on Wall Street. Standing with unemployed Americans in opposition to block-and-blame conservatism is not only right on principle, it is also good politics.