In remarks delivered in the Rose Garden Monday, Obama amplified his weekly radio address, where he criticized Republicans for successfully blocking three earlier attempts to extend unemployment benefits.
The White House is intentionally building up a sense of legislative and political drama in advance of Tuesday's Senate vote to break the GOP filibuster of a bill that would use $33 billion in deficit-financing to extend jobless benefits. Republicans want to offset the cost with unused funds from the stimulus law or through other budget savings.
Republicans argue the historic precedent of adding the cost of jobless benefits to the deficit is no longer valid after Obama's $862 billion stimulus law, a 9-month fiscal 2010 deficit of $1 trillion and a national debt now above $13 trillion.
The bill would extend until Nov. 30 federal funding of unemployment benefits for a maximum of 99 weeks. Individuals in states with unemployment rates higher than 6 percent could receive benefits for up to 93 weeks. Those receiving benefits in states with a jobless rate higher than 8.5 percent would receive benefits for up to 99 weeks.
In June, the Department of Labor reported 6.8 million Americans (45.5 percent of the labor force) had been out of work for 27 weeks or longer.
"It's time to stop holding workers laid off in this recession hostage to Washington politics," Obama said. "We've got to do what's right. Not for the next election, but for the middle class. I know it's getting close to an election, but there are times where you put elections aside. This is one of those times."
But Republicans argue the White House already knows it's going to win the Tuesday vote -- that the president's rhetorically pushing against an open door.
Democrats need 60 votes to overcome the GOP filibuster. With Friday's appointment of Carte Goodwin of West Virginia, Democrats now have 59 seats. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has already announced she will vote to extend unemployment benefits without offsetting the costs.
That's 60 votes. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says, "We're hopeful we have the votes...we don't take anything for granted." Republicans consider Obama's tough rhetoric Saturday and Monday an act of political expediency, one premised entirely on scoring political points in advance of the mid-term elections.
“The President knows that Republicans support extending unemployment insurance, and doing it in a fiscally-responsible way by cutting spending elsewhere in the $3 trillion federal budget," said House Minority Leader John Boehner. "The American people are asking ‘where are the jobs?’ and President Obama continues to offer only disingenuous attacks, not answers.”
Republicans also point out Obama approved and complimented as "fiscally responsible" a 20-week extension of unemployment benefits in November that Congress paid for with offsets. The Congressional Budget Office tabulated the offsets here. The White House says 2.5 million people have lost benefits since early July, and that number could rise to 2.8 million by the end of the week.
"Everyone agrees on extending the additional unemployment insurance, but the Democrat way is to insist we add it to the national debt at the same time—while blocking Republican efforts to pass the same extension without the debt," said Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Obama said he was in no mood to take lectures from Republicans on fiscal discipline.
"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 problems spending hundreds of billions of dollars on tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are saying we shouldn't provide relief to middle class Americans," Obama said.