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Obama Says Republicans Holding Unemployed Hostage to Politics


President Obama makes a statement to the press in the White House Rose Garden, beside him are unemployed workers Denise Gibson, Jim Chukalas, and Leslie Macko, 19 July 2010

President Obama makes a statement to the press in the White House Rose Garden, beside him are unemployed workers Denise Gibson, Jim Chukalas, and Leslie Macko, 19 July 2010

President Barack Obama is urging the U.S. Senate to act this week on extending benefits for 2.5 million unemployed Americans. Mr. Obama says Americans without jobs are being held "hostage" by Senate Republicans who have blocked legislation to extend unemployment insurance that expired in June.

Three times in recent weeks, Republicans have used parliamentary tactics in the Senate to block the extension of benefits, angering the president at a time when he is trying to move this and other legislation through Congress before the congressional recess.

The White House has declared the unemployment bill an emergency measure, meaning it does not have to be offset by spending cuts in other areas of the federal budget.

Republicans have taken aim at that, as they continue to attack Mr. Obama on several fronts and challenge the White House over deficit spending and rising debt.

Addressing media in the White House Rose Garden, the president said Republicans who had for years supported policies that turned big surpluses into deficits had no place blocking aid for Americans desperately searching for work.

"It is time to stop holding workers laid off in this recession hostage to Washington politics," he said. "It is time to do what is right, not for the next election, but for the middle class."

Joining the president at the podium were three unemployed Americans - a former auto dealership parts manager, a former fitness center employee and a former real estate agent - whose government support has run out or is about to expire.

Mr. Obama said maneuvering by Senate Republicans to block extension of unemployment benefits demonstrates, what he called, a lack of faith in the American people. He described as mis-guided the notion that emergency relief would discourage people from looking for jobs.

The president's appearance was a final opportunity to fire back at Republicans on the issue before an expected Tuesday vote in which majority Senate Democrats are expected to be able to break the Republican roadblock.

House of Representatives Republican leader John Boehner said Republicans support extending unemployment benefits by cutting spending elsewhere. He accused Mr. Obama of offering "disingenuous attacks" rather than answers on job growth.

Later this week, Mr. Obama will be able to point to another legislative accomplishment when he signs sweeping financial-system regulatory reform legislation he has battled for since coming to office.

Financial reform, with the unemployment extension and another measure to provide small business tax benefits, are the three major legislative objectives the president and Democratic leaders agreed to focus on before the long summer recess.

The entire legislative schedule is even more compressed as lawmakers and the White House increasingly turn their focus to the November mid-term congressional elections.

President Obama will be hitting the road frequently to campaign for his party's candidates in a number of states important to Democrat's hope of retaining control of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

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