President Obama Monday called on Congress to pass an extension of benefits for out-of-work Americans, accusing Senate Republicans of a “lack of faith in the American people” for repeatedly blocking passage of a bill. After introducing three Americans whose benefits are expiring, the president complained that “after years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit,” Republicans “who didn’t have any problems 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.”
Mr. Obama complained that “a partisan minority in the Senate has used parliamentary maneuvers” to block a vote three times, “denying millions of people who are out of work much-needed relief.”
Republican Senate leaders, he said, “are advancing a misguided notion that emergency relief somehow discourages people from looking for a job should talk to these folks.”
“That attitude, I think, reflects a lack of faith in the American people,” said Mr. Obama. “Because the Americans I hear from, in letters and town hall meetings, Americans like Leslie and Jim and Denise — they’re not looking for a handout. They desperately want to work. It’s just, right now, they can’t find a job.”
Mr. Obama also noted that there had long been a “tradition” under presidents from both parties to pass similar extensions, noting that under President George W. Bush “Republican senators voted several times to extend emergency unemployment benefits.”
Republicans say they want to extend unemployment benefits but not unless they are paid for. Thus far their filibuster has cut off checks to 2.5 million people, CBS News Capitol Hill producer Bob Fuss reports.
The president’s statement reflects a ratcheting up of rhetoric from Democrats who see political opportunity in casting Republican support for extending the Bush tax cuts for those making in excess of $200,000 with their blockage of an unemployment benefits extension.
The filibuster is likely to end with the arrival of new West Virginia Democratic senator Carte Goodwin tomorrow. Goodwin was appointed by West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin to serve in place of the late Sen. Robert Byrd until an election is held to determine a successor.
One Democrat, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, has supported the Republican filibuster, while two Republicans – Maine’s Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe – are siding the Democrats. If that holds, Goodwin’s vote would likely give Democrats the 60 votes they need to break the GOP filibuster.
Addressing the nearly ten percent unemployment rate in his remarks, Mr. Obama said Americans across the country are searching for jobs and fretting about paying the bills. He pushed the Senate to pass a package of tax cuts and expanded small business lending that he suggested would spur hiring.
In the meantime, he said, “We’ve got a responsibility to help [Americans] make ends meet and support their families, even as they are looking for another job.”
The president was joined by three people – a former parts manager at a Honda dealership named Jim Chukalas, who he said has gone door-to-door seeking jobs without success, as well as former maintenance supervisor Denise Gibson and former aesthetician Leslie Macko.
The bill is necessary “in an economy where there are five applicants for every opening,” the president said, arguing Americans “need emergency relief to help them pay the rent and cover their utilities and put food on the table while they’re looking for another job.”
“These are honest, decent, hardworking folks who have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own and who have nowhere else to turn except unemployment benefits and who need emergency relief to help them weather this economic storm,” he said.
“It’s time to stop holding workers laid off in this recession hostage to Washington politics,” added the president. “It’s time to do what’s right, not for the next election, but for the middle class.”
“I know it’s getting close to an election, but there are times where you put elections aside,” he said. “This is one of those times.”
House Republican leader John Boehner said in response to the comments that the president is offering “disingenuous attacks, not answers.”
© MMX, CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved