Obama Pushes Senate To Extend Jobless Benefits

President Obama on Monday renewed his appeal to the Senate to extend jobless benefits that have expired for many workers. The swearing in of a new senator to replace Robert Byrd may provide the needed margin to overcome a Republican filibuster against the spending.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

President Obama and congressional Democrats have been trying for weeks to pass a bill that would extend unemployment benefits to millions of out-of-work Americans. But after easy passage in the House, they have three times fallen short of the 60 votes they need in the Senate.

Tomorrow, they'll try again, and today, President Obama tried to close the deal. NPR's Mara Liasson reports from the White House

MARA LIASSON: Today, the president appeared in the Rose Garden with three out-of-work, middle-class Americans whose presence was meant to make his point and make Republicans sweat.

President BARACK OBAMA: Now, tomorrow we will have another chance to offer them that relief, to do right by not just Jim(ph) and Leslie(ph) and Denise(ph) but all the Americans who need a helping hand right now. And I hope we seize it.

LIASSON: In fact, with tomorrow's swearing-in of West Virginia Democrat Carte Goodwin, replacing the late Robert Byrd, the Democrats should have 60 votes. That's counting 56 of their own plus two independents and two Republicans, Maine Senators Olympia Snow and Susan Collins.

It's basically the scenario that played out four months ago, after Republicans resisted and delayed a previous extension of unemployment benefits. Today, the president suggested his opponents were hypocrites.

Pres. OBAMA: 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.

LIASSON: Emergency in this case means money that is borrowed, as opposed to being offset somewhere else in the budget, and that's what the Republicans object to. They say they'd be happy to extend jobless benefits, but not if the cost adds to the deficit. The White House says that's disingenuous, pointing to the big deficits the GOP ran up under President Bush.

It's an argument all but certain to continue as the two parties wrestle with an unemployment rate that's staying stubbornly high even as the economy recovers.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.

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