Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (search) criticized the Bush administration Monday for what he called a "callous" refusal to press Congress for another extension of unemployment benefits.

"I think it's a pretty big issue," Dean said. "It underlines the mean-spiritedness of this administration."

Bush should call Congress into special session, Dean said, and keep lawmakers at work until the extension of benefits is approved. The looming holiday season and the potential that thousands could lose benefits at precisely the time they are most needed underscores the urgency, he said.

"It is incredible callousness" to refuse to consider the issue, Dean said. Extending benefits would cost about $1 billion per month, he said, and the Federal Unemployment Trust Funds already have roughly $20 billion in reserves.

Under the unemployment insurance system, workers who lose their job through no fault of their own are generally eligible for 26 weeks of unemployment insurance provided by state benefit systems.

Since March 2002, workers have been eligible for an additional 13 weeks of benefits provided by Congress after they exhaust state jobless benefits. Congress adjourned this year without again approving those extended benefits.

Republicans argue that the economy is beginning to improve and unemployment is on the decline, rendering it unnecessary to provide extended benefits. Dean rejected that argument, saying up to 90,000 workers will lose benefits because of the inaction in Congress.

Republicans said Dean's argument is another example of his big-spending tendencies.

"Howard Dean should remember from when he was governor of Vermont that raising taxes doesn't create jobs," Iowa GOP spokeswoman Kristin Scuderi said. "Howard Dean's proposal to raise taxes will put more people in the unemployment line, not fewer, by penalizing working families."