WASHINGTON – With the votes in hand to break a Republican filibuster against the extension of jobless benefits, President Barack Obama stepped up pressure Monday on Republicans in an attack that has become a staple of his midterm election political strategy.
The Senate plans to vote today to overcome Republican refusal to vote on new aid to an estimated 2.5 million unemployed Americans whose jobless benefits have lapsed because of the length of time they have been out of work.
Once Senate passage of $33.9 billion in extra funds is also approved by the House, a step expected later this week, money will begin flowing to jobless workers across the country. The benefits would be retroactive to June and last through November.
The defeat of the GOP filibuster is considered assured. The move requires 60 votes, a mark Senate Democrats will reach today after their newest member, Carte Goodwin of West Virginia, is sworn in to take the place of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd.
Nonetheless, Obama sought to increase pressure on Republicans Monday, appearing in the White House Rose Garden to press his election-year message that the GOP is blocking financial help to struggling Americans.
“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,” Obama said in the Rose Garden.
Senate Republicans, citing concerns about deficit spending, have invoked the filibuster three times to block passage of an aid bill.
Having Obama weigh in on the Senate fight illustrates the partisan divide, and could help to buffer Democrats from voters’ anxieties as economists forecast a lagging recovery.
It also highlighted the economic questions underlying the effect of jobless benefits on the economy and on the federal deficit.
Republicans insist they are not opposed to jobless aid – they only want to pay for it without loading up the national debt. Republicans, however, also have wondered aloud whether unemployment checks keep people from work.
“Continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work,” Republican Sen. Jon Kyl said during a floor debate this spring.
Republican Rep. Tom Price of Georgia said Monday that some economists have warned there could be a “moral hazard” in prolonged aid to jobless Americans.
But Obama rapped lawmakers “who are advancing a misguided notion that emergency relief somehow discourages people from looking for a job.”
Across the U.S., economists say there are five unemployed people for every available job.
The average length of joblessness during this recession has been eight months – greater than any previous downturn in more than 50 years, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics.
Congress historically has approved unemployment benefits as emergency spending measures, without requiring budget cuts elsewhere. Since the Economic Recovery Act was passed in 2009, Congress has approved four other expansions and extensions of jobless benefits totaling $35 billion, mostly approved without offsets.