WASHINGTON (CN) – President Obama chastised Senate Republicans on Monday for “stonewalling” a bill that would extend unemployment benefits for millions of jobless Americans. The Senate is scheduled to vote again on the measure today (Tuesday).
“They don’t want a handout,” Obama said in the Rose Garden, flanked by three Americans struggling to find jobs. “They desperately want to work.”
Obama said the three individuals, who lost jobs at a car dealership, a fitness center and a real estate agency, represented millions of jobless Americans who relied on unemployment benefits while searching for jobs.
“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,” Obama said. “That attitude reflects a lack of faith in the American people.”
Obama called for Republican support to extend emergency relief to 2.5 million Americans whose jobless benefits had expired as of June 4.
Senate Republicans have blocked the unemployment benefits extension bill from going to a final vote three times.
Senate Democratic leaders have failed to garner the 60 votes needed to move the bill forward, with a 56-40 vote on June 17, a 57-41 vote on June 24, and a 58-38 vote on June 30 in favor of advancing the bill.
Republicans say they want government spending to be offset before they approve it.
Obama accused Senate Republicans of breaking with a tradition of bipartisan approval of jobless benefits extension, noting that Senate Republicans voted several times to extend unemployment benefits during the Bush administration.
“The same people who didn’t have any problems extending hundreds of billions of dollars of tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are saying we should not offer the least and middle class Americans who really need help,” Obama said.
As he invoked strong partisan language, Obama urged Congress to put partisan election feelings aside and push through with the unemployment benefits extension.
“It’s time to stop holding workers laid off in this recession hostage to Washington politics,” Obama said.
“The Republicans’ refusal to act has already blocked assistance to 2.5 million Americans, and hundreds of thousands more are impacted by each additional week of delay,” the White House said in a statement.
The White House press office billed the unemployment benefits extension bill as a way to boost the overall economy, saying government checks would encourage consumer spending. Moody’s economist Mark Zandi estimated that for every dollar in unemployment benefit government spending, $1.60 is added to the country’s economic output.
The nationwide unemployment rate is still hovering at 9.5 percent, with an average of five applicants for every job opening.