In an effort to put congressional Republicans on the defensive by accusing them of being more interested in petty Washington politics than the plight of struggling unemployed Americans, President Barack Obama on Monday attacked members of Congress' minority party for repeatedly blocking jobless benefits.
Besides accusing them of playing politics at the expense of the jobless, Obama charged Republicans with being hypocrites, though he didn't use that word, since they had supported such benefits under his predecessor but not now.
He even got in a shot at Republicans for turning federal budget surpluses into deficits.
At a White House event where he was accompanied by some unemployed workers, Obama said:
... We need to pass it for all the Americans who haven’t been able to find work in an economy where there are five applicants for every opening; who 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.
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.
Over the past few weeks, a majority of senators have tried -– not once, not twice, but three times –- to extend emergency relief on a temporary basis. Each time, a partisan minority in the Senate has used parliamentary maneuvers to block a vote, denying millions of people who are out of work much-needed relief. 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.
That attitude I think reflects a lack of faith in the American people, because the Americans I hear from in letters and meet in town hall meetings –- Americans like Leslie and Jim and Denise -- they’re not looking for a handout. They desperately want to work. Just right now they can’t find a job. These are honest, decent, hardworking folks who’ve 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.
Congressional Democrats, particularly in the House where they are facing a serious challenge as they try to hold on to their majority, have complained in recent weeks that the White House wasn't doing nearly enough to take the legs out from under Republicans.
Further, House Democrats were infuriated when White House press secretary Robert Gibbs stated the obvious, that Republicans have a chance to wrest away the House majority from Democrats.
Many pundits have said as much but House Democrats felt that Gibbs had betrayed them by actually articulating that view publicly.
So a dual aim of Monday's White House event was to have Obama mollify fellow Democrats by increasing his anti-Republican volume.
Since it's widely believed that the November election will largely be determined by economic considerations, that it truly is an it's-the-economy-stupid kind of year, the White House event also wanted to communicate that it's the president, not Republicans who have the best interests of many American workers at heart.