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Obama Again Castigates GOP for Blocking Unemployment Extension

Speaking in the Rose Garden, surrounded by three unemployed workers, this morning President Obama again castigated Republicans for blocking the federal extension of unemployment benefits. And he implied hypocrisy on Republicans’ part — the GOP cut taxes and increased spending, expanding the deficit Republicans now demand get slashed; and the GOP voted for the emergency extension of benefits during the Bush administration.

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, cover their utilities, and put food on the table while they look for another job. 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 a person’s sole source of income while they’re out of work — are in jeopardy. 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 do need help.

Here is the full text of the speech:

Good morning. Right now, all across this country, many Americans are sitting at the kitchen table, scanning the classifieds, updating their resumes, or sending out another job application, hoping that this time, they’ll hear back. They’re filled with a sense of uncertainty about where their next paycheck will come from. And I know the only thing that will free them from those worries — the only thing that will lift that sense of uncertainty — is the security of a new job.

To that end, we must continue our efforts to do everything in our power to spur growth and hiring. And I hope the Senate acts this week on a package of tax cuts and expanded lending for small businesses, where most of America’s jobs are created.

But even as we work to jumpstart job-growth in the private sector, get businesses hiring, and dig ourselves out of this economic hole, we also have another responsibility — to offer emergency relief to Americans who’ve been laid off in this recession; to help them make ends meet — and support their families — while they’re looking for another job.

That’s why it’s so essential to pass the unemployment insurance extension that comes up for a vote tomorrow. We need to pass it for men like Jim Chukalas, who’s with me today, and who worked as a parts manager at a Honda dealership until about two years ago. Jim has posted resumes everywhere, and even gone door-to-door looking for jobs, but hasn’t gotten a single interview. He’s trying to be strong for his two young kids, but now that he’s exhausted his unemployment benefits, that’s getting harder to do.

We need to pass it for women like Leslie Macko, who lost her job at a fitness center last year, and has been looking for work ever since. Because she’s eligible for only a few more weeks of unemployment, she’s doing what she never thought she’d have to do. Not at this point, anyway. She’s turning to her father for financial support.

We need to pass it for Americans like Denise Gibson, who was laid off from a real estate agency earlier this year. Denise has been interviewing for jobs — but so far, nothing. Meanwhile, she’s fallen further and further behind on her rent. And with her unemployment benefits set to expire, she’s worried about what the future holds.

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, cover their utilities, and put food on the table while they look for another job. 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 a person’s sole source of income while they’re out of work — are in jeopardy. 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 do 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. And 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. Republican leaders in the Senate are advancing a misguided notion that emergency relief somehow discourages people from looking for a job.

Well, I think that reflects a lack of faith in the American people. The Americans I hear from in letters and meet in town halls — Americans like the ones here today — they aren’t looking for a handout. It’s not that they don’t want to work. They desperately do. They just can’t find a job. They’re honest, decent, hardworking folks who’ve fallen on hard times through no fault of their own; who have nowhere else to turn except unemployment benefits; who need emergency relief to help them weather this economic storm.

Tomorrow, we’ll have another chance offer them that relief; to do right by folks like Jim, Leslie, and Denise — and I hope we seize it. It’s time to stop holding workers laid off in this recession hostage to Washington politics. It’s time to do what’s right — not for the next election, but for the middle class. It’s time to stop blocking emergency relief for Americans who are out of work and extend unemployment insurance. And that’s what I hope Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle do. Thank you.

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