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McConnell continues opposition to unemployment extension at Koch brothers event

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY recently spoke on June 15, 2014 at a summit hosted by the Koch brothers in Dana Point, Calif. which included an audience of millionaires and billionaires as part his campaign for reelection as the Senator from Kentucky. In his speech entitled "Free Speech: Defending First Amendment Rights," The damaging elements of the speech were obtained The Nation and The Undercurrent who published a full text transcript of the speech and the audio on Tuesday, August 26, 2014. McConnell attacked and stated his vehement opposition to President Barack Obama and the Congressional Democrats economic agenda, making particularly mocking comments about the unemployment benefits extension and raising the minimum wage.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told a group of donors at a Koch brothers event how a Republican Senate would act and it would oppose every economic issue supported by President Barack Obama, June 5, 2014
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Sen. McConnell was courting donors at the event called "American Courage: Our Commitment to a Free Society." McConnell is facing one of the toughest elections in 30 year career against Democrat Kentucky's Secretary of Alison Lundergan Grimes. They remain close in the polls with McConnell see slight leads. At stake in this midterm election is Republican control of the Senate and of Congress, and should McConnell win reelection he will most probably be voted in as Senate majority leader by his colleagues.

McConnell promised a Republican budget that would "shrink" government spending, stating; "So in the House and Senate, we own the budget. So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. And I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what's called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We're going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board (inaudible). All across the federal government, we're going to go after it…"

Those publications retained the speech's audio after McConnell gave an interview with Politico about his plans to prevent Obama's economic and social agenda if the Republicans gain control of the Senate in the midterm elections in November. So far most polls give the Republicans a slight lead over the Democrats, and believe the GOP has a chance of acquiring the six seats necessary for a majority.

McConnell told Politico about the GOP's plans, saying; "We're going to pass spending bills, and they're going to have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy. That's something he won't like, but that will be done. I guarantee it." McConnell explained that Obama "needs to be challenged, and the best way to do that is through the funding process. He would have to make a decision on a given bill, whether there's more in it that he likes than dislikes." Putting riders on spending bills as Politico points out threatens a government shutdown if Obama disagrees with the Republicans in Congress.

McConnell told the group of donors about his opposition to the unemployment benefits extension, not stating the reason behind it is a difference of opinion on policy, but because he believes it is immoral. McConnell said; "And we're not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That's all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage (inaudible)-cost the country 500,000 new jobs; extending unemployment-that's a great message for retirees; uh, the student loan package the other day, that's just going to make things worse, uh. These people believe in all the wrong things."

Grimes attacked McConnell back on his position on two key economic issues important to the Democrats in the midterm elections campaign. Democrats have the most part stood behind President Obama's economic opportunity program, which he has been promoting since his State of the Union address and signing executive orders and memorandums to make 2014 a year of economic action. Grimes has campaign TV ads pointing out that McConnell "vot[ed] 17 times against raising the minimum wage" and "12 times against extending unemployment benefits for laid-off workers."

Republicans have long opposed the benefits extension, because they claim benefits perpetuate unemployment, thinking that those receiving the benefits do not want to work, but prefer taking what the Republicans consider the easy way taking benefits, free money. Recent studies contradict this assertion, concluding that unemployment especially in the long-term depressed Americans and they would prefer to work for any money they receive.

The EUC program which helped Americans unemployed for more than 27 weeks expired on Dec. 28, 2013. One bill the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014 authored by Senators Jack Reed, D-RI and Dean Heller, R-NV co-authored and co-sponsored passed in the senate in April. Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH, however, failed to put the bill to a vote prior to its June 1, 2014 deadline, because it did not include job creation measures.

On Tuesday, June 24, 2014 Reed and Heller unveiled a new bill, extending benefits for five months without a deadline and the retroactive element included in the first bill, but there is still no job creation measures. The House also introduced its own bipartisan unemployment extension bill co-authored and sponsored by Representatives Frank LoBiondo, R-NJ-02 and Dan Kildee, D-MI-05 and introduced on Wednesday afternoon, June 25, 2014. There has been no action in the House or Senate on either bill prior to the August Congressional recess.

Congressional Republicans vote against almost every economic bill supported by President Obama and Congressional Democrats designed to help lower income and middle class Americans. McConnell filibustered the very first incarnation of the unemployment benefits extension bill authored by Reed and Heller on February 7 because it did not funding to offset the bill's cost. McConnell also filibustered the bill to raise the minimum across the country to $10.10 in the end of April. McConnell also filibustered a bill authored by Elizabeth Warren in June to refinance student loan debt because it would raise taxes on the wealthy. His record is proving Democrats right that he is only serving the millionaires and billionaires he was courting.

Democrats in the Senate and the House still very much support the unemployment benefits extension. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV promises to still put the new Reed-Heller bill to a vote. The Senate returns however, on Sept. 8 and Reid wants to recess for the midterm election campaign only two weeks later on Sept, 23 leaving little time to push through a vote. Still as Learning and Finance point out the Democrats might make the unemployment benefits extension as a campaign issue and push through the bill while they still have a majority and can.

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Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.