Politics

Millions to Lose Jobless Benefits by Year's End

FILE: Eric Lipps, 52, waits in line to enter the NYCHires Job Fair on Dec. 9, 2009, in New York City.

FILE: Eric Lipps, 52, waits in line to enter the NYCHires Job Fair on Dec. 9, 2009, in New York City.  (Reuters)

While hundreds of House members and dozens of senators hit the campaign trail in a fight to save their jobs with help from President Obama, more than 2 million out-of-work Americans are faced with dropping into unemployment obscurity by the end of the year. 

Though Congress last month passed a jobless benefits extension, the boost only lasts until Nov. 30 -- that means a backlog of recipients will drop off those benefits all at once come December. Between the end of August and the end of the calendar year, approximately 2.37 million Americans will stop getting unemployment checks, according to Labor Department statistics. 

The looming dropoff is sure to contribute to economic anxiety in a climate where the economy already ranks as the top issue for voters in poll after poll. 

And as President Obama embarks on a three-day, cross-country fundraising tour while members of Congress turn focus from legislation to re-election, they're faced with the challenge of showing that the jobs of Main Street Americans, not those of Beltway politicians, matter most. 

Republicans pulled no punches in criticizing the president's fundraising trip Monday. As Obama left Washington, they pointed to his whirlwind cash-raising campaign to claim the president's head is not in the right place. 

The Republican National Committee released a new web video highlighting the five states Obama is visiting, along with the local unemployment rate for each. 

On the agenda for the president are fundraising stops in Wisconsin, California, Washington, Ohio and Florida. Most are states considered vital to the president in 2012, and he is using his visits this week to stump for Democrats caught in tight races this November. 

"Every day that the president is not talking about jobs and the economy is a day that Democrats continue to show how out of touch they are with the problems of the American people," said Paul Lindsay, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee -- which is taking a similar approach in criticizing Obama's trip. 

The NRCC launched a website Monday, titled "The West Swing," mocking Obama's scheduled fundraiser with party leaders in Los Angeles Monday night. 

"Don't let Democrats mislead voters -- the economic mess is a result of THEIR failed agenda," the site says, urging supporters to contribute to "offset" the Democratic money raised in California. 

Republicans, who opposed the jobless benefits extension because they said they wanted it to be paid for, claim other action can be taken to lift up the economy. Lindsay said Republican candidates in the months ahead are going to draw increased attention to the possible expiration of the Bush tax cuts. 

While Democrats argue that most of the tax cuts should be extended for all but the textbook wealthy, Republicans say they should be extended across the board. Lindsay said letting the cuts lapse ensures job growth will continue to stagnate. 

"This is the small business tax," he said. 

Democrats, though, argue that taxes should go back up for those making more than $200,000 in order to start plugging the deficit. They claim that they've been able to stop an economic crisis from becoming considerably worse and tout their efforts providing short-term relief with repeated jobless benefits extensions -- though the sunset is fast approaching on the federally funded cushion. 

White House spokesman Bill Burton said Monday that while Obama is "not satisfied with the pace of this recovery," Republicans offer only obstructionism. 

"We have been able to make some progress. What you see here is the Democratic vision, which is continue to make progress, keep on with the policies that are moving us out of this crisis," he said. Republicans, he said, want to "obstruct the progress we've been able to make." 

Burton pointed to the Wisconsin energy plant Obama visited Monday as an example, saying the plant was adding 80 jobs "as a result of new investment and the fact that they're manufacturing something that people abroad and domestically are interested in buying." 

Obama, stopping by the Wisconsin firm on his way to a fundraiser for state Democrats, said ZBB Energy Corp. is showing how "manufacturing jobs can come back." He described the clean energy industry as one area where job growth can be fueled. 

"We expect our commitment to clean energy to lead to more than 800,000 jobs by 2012," the president said. 

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said the president is playing a vital role by hitting the campaign trail. 

"I know the president will be campaigning throughout the country. He'll be campaigning in many, many districts," Reed said on "Fox News Sunday." "I think his ability to talk about what his administration has accomplished in terms of health reform, in terms of stabilizing a terrible situation. ... To go back to the Bush policies would be a disaster for the country. And many candidates will be wanting that message." 

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader John Boehner on Monday hit the jobs theme by requesting that the Obama administration provide a complete list of new federal rules projected to cost the economy $1 billion or more. 

"The Obama administration owes the American people a full accounting of the degree to which its policies may be negatively impacting job creation in our country," Boehner said.