Getting a little fired up over unemployment aid

GETTING A LITTLE FIRED UP OVER UNEMPLOYMENT AID…. If all goes according to plan, the Senate will try, for a fourth time, in recent months, to extend unemployment benefits. With the Senate Democratic caucus growing to 59 members tomorrow afternoon, the prospects are relatively strong that it’ll pass.

But President Obama nevertheless used his bully pulpit this morning, not only urging senators to do the right thing, but also taking some not-so-veiled shots at those who’ve been fighting so hard against jobless aid. He stood alongside three Americans who’ve been struggling and need those benefits.

“For a long time, there’s been a tradition — under both Democratic and Republican Presidents — to offer relief to the unemployed,” he said. “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 looking for work — are in jeopardy.”

With the volume of his voice clearly rising, Obama went on to say, “And I have to say, 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 need help.”

“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. 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.”

Responding to one of the GOP talking points, the president went on to say, “These leaders in the Senate who are advancing a misguided notion that emergency relief somehow discourages people from looking for a job should talk to these folks. That attitude I think reflects a lack of faith in the American people, because the Americans I hear from in letters and meet in town hall meetings — Americans like Leslie and Jim and Denise — they’re not looking for a handout. They desperately want to work. Just right now they can’t find a job. These are honest, decent, hardworking folks who’ve fallen on hard times through no fault of their own, and who have nowhere else to turn except unemployment benefits and who need emergency relief to help them weather this economic storm.”

There are multiple reasons for remarks like these. Obviously, the White House hopes to generate some support in advance of tomorrow’s vote. But as the presidential remarks helped underscore, the administration also hopes to make abundantly clear which party stands for more aid, and which is inclined to leave struggling families on their own.

Indeed, though Obama seemed reluctant to use the word “Republican,” he left no doubt how frustrating it is to see the GOP approve extended aid through deficit financing before, just like Republicans cut taxes and boosted spending through deficit financing, only to see them take a stand now on the backs of the unemployed.

It’s a message we’re likely to hear again throughout the campaign season.