WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama says Senate Republicans are playing politics with bills that would extend benefits to the unemployed and increase lending to small businesses.
Striking a deeply partisan tone in his weekly radio and online address, Obama said the GOP leadership has chosen to “filibuster our recovery and obstruct our progress” by blocking votes on agenda items the president says would breath life into the economic recovery.
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“These steps aren’t just the right thing to do for those hardest hit by the recession,” Obama said. “They’re the right thing to do for all of us.”
The address was recorded at the White House before Obama flew to Maine on Friday for a weekend family vacation.
Lawmakers have battled for weeks over extending unemployment benefits to workers who have been out of a job for long stretches of time. The last extension ran out at the end of May, leaving about 2.5 million people without benefits.
The House has already passed a bill to extend the benefits through November, but with the death of Sen. Robert Byrd, Senate Democrats don’t have the 60 votes they need to overcome a GOP filibuster. The Senate plans to take up the measure again on Tuesday — when Byrd’s successor, the former chief counsel for Gov. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is expected to be sworn in.
Obama said lawmakers’ obligation to extend benefits is both moral and practical, citing some economists who believe extending unemployment insurance is one of the most cost-effective ways to jump-start the economy because it puts money in the pockets of people who are likely to spend it quickly.
The $34 billion needed to extend benefits would be borrowed, adding to the nation’s mounting debt. Republicans have tapped into the public’s anger and concern over that debt, saying they would only support extending benefits if the bill was paid for.
Obama pushed back in his address, accusing Republicans of making their stand at the expense of the unemployed “after years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit.”
Obama also called on lawmakers to send him a package of tax breaks and credit extensions for small businesses. Democrats are hoping to schedule a vote on the small business bill by the time Congress breaks for its August recess. Republican leaders say they’re happy to vote, as long as they get a chance to change the bill to their liking.
In their weekly address, Republicans focused on Obama’s recess appointment of Donald Berwick to the administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. By appointing Berwick while the Senate was in recess, Obama was able to avoid a public hearing and Senate vote for his nominee — a move Republicans have called hypocritical amid Obama’s promises of transparency.
Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, who delivered the address, said Berwick’s recess appointment is particularly troubling given the large role he’ll play in implementing the massive health care overhaul Obama signed into law earlier this year.
“The president’s health care plan — the most sweeping overhaul of health care in our lifetime — cannot be implemented behind closed doors,” Roberts said.