Democrats Set to Pass Unemployment Insurance Extension

unemployed Americans
unemployed Americans

Senate Democrats are poised to pass an extension of unemployment insurance for the 2.5 million people whose benefits have expired. Tuesday, new Democratic senator, Carte Goodwin of West Virginia will be sworn in, giving Democrats the votes they need to bring the measure to the Senate floor for an up-or-down vote.

With passage of the extension highly likely, Obama has leveled last-minute political shots at Republicans.

Over the weekend, President Obama used GOP opposition to bludgeon Republicans as heartless politicians who don't care about the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs during the recession. He reiterated that message during a Rose Garden speech on Monday.

Republicans say they support the extension -- but accuse Democrats of blocking a bill that wouldn't add to the deficit.

The $34 billion unemployment benefits extension would add about 2% to the projected budget deficit of $1.56 trillion. In the last year of the Clinton administration, the federal budget had a surplus of $236 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. President George W. Bush handed Obama a $1.2 trillion budget deficit for the fiscal year 2009, which was set before Obama took office.

Political Battle Lines Emerging

During his weekly address Saturday, Obama slammed Republican senators for threatening to block the extension because it would add $34 billion to the budget deficit. Obama said the GOP had no qualms about approving billions in budget-busting tax breaks for the wealthy, but when it comes to the unemployed, they've suddenly found their fiscal rectitude.

"Too often, the Republican leadership in the United States Senate chooses to filibuster our recovery and obstruct our progress," Obama said. "Think about what these stalling tactics mean for the millions of Americans who've lost their jobs since the recession began. Over the past several weeks, more than two million of them have seen their unemployment insurance expire."

"They say we shouldn't provide unemployment insurance because it costs money," Obama said of Republicans. "So after years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, including a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, they've finally decided to make their stand on the backs of the unemployed."

Obama argued that passing the extension would help stimulate the economy because cash-strapped recipients will immediately spend the benefits on essentials like food and rent.

"The fact is, most economists agree that extending unemployment insurance is one of the single most cost-effective ways to help jumpstart the economy," Obama said. "It puts money into the pockets of folks who not only need it most, but who also are most likely to spend it quickly."