This morning, President Obama went to the podium in the Rose Garden to accuse Senate Republicans of blocking an extension of unemployment benefits. USA Today writes, “A Republican filibuster that has three times blocked the extension ‘reflects a lack of faith in the American people,’ Obama said. ‘They’re not looking for a handout. They desperately want to work. It’s just that right now, they can’t find a job.’ The president said ‘It’s time to stop holding workers laid off in this recession hostage to Washington politics.’” The AP adds that Obama “accus[ed] them of holding the public hostage to Washington politics.” All of this is, of course, absurd.
Republicans are simply asking that assistance for the unemployed be paid for at a time when our nation’s debt exceeds $13 trillion and when the country is facing its second straight year of a deficit larger than $1 trillion. As the AP points out, “The $34 billion needed to extend benefits would be borrowed, adding to the nation’s mounting debt.”
It’s particularly audacious for the President to insinuate that Republicans have callous disregard for the plight of the unemployed as his administration is in the midst of a campaign to claim that their failed stimulus bill is creating a “Recovery Summer.” Of course, this was also a day after he returned from a conspicuous weekend trip to a popular vacation spot in Maine.
Even more ridiculous is Obama’s charge that Republicans are holding these benefits “hostage” to Washington politics. In fact, back in November 2009, Obama called fully paid for unemployment benefits “fiscally responsible.” But just during the month of June, Democrats objected to 4 different GOP requests to extend unemployment benefits without adding to the debt. A month ago Sen. John Thune (R-SD) offered an amendment to extend benefits to November, cut the deficit by $55 billion, and cut spending by $100 billion. But even that was unacceptable to Democrats: 57 voted to kill the Thune amendment.
It’s pretty amazing to have the Democrat president accusing Republicans of playing politics with unemployment benefits given this track record from Democrats in the Senate. But it’s even more ridiculous considering what’s going to happen tomorrow: In the afternoon, the new Democrat senator from West Virginia is going to be sworn in, and 15 minutes later he’s expected to join Democrats in using his new government credit card to pay for unemployment benefits through deficit spending by voting for cloture on their bill. So why didn’t Democrats hold the vote last week? They didn’t have the votes for the deficit spending. And yet President Obama is accusing Republicans of playing politics.
In the eight months since Obama called paying for extending unemployment benefits “fiscally responsible,” the debt has grown $1.25 trillion. Does he expect Americans to believe it’s somehow responsible to not pay for them now? On CNN’s State of the Union yesterday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said, “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. . . . 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?”