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Obama emphasizes helping middle class ignores unemployment benefits extension

President Barack Obama used his pre-August recess press conference held at the White House press briefing room on Friday afternoon, Aug. 1, 2014 and his weekly address released on Saturday morning, Aug. 2, 2014 to boast about the good economic news from the July jobs report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday morning, Aug. 1. The president focused on what more that can be done for the middle class if the Republicans in Congress would not block his agenda. President Obama emphasized elements from his economic opportunity program including raising the minimum wage, student loans repayments, fair pay and paid leave, however, noticeably absent was any mention of extending long-term jobless benefits. President Obama in full campaign mode is still trying his unsuccessful tactic of shaming the Republicans to pass nationwide bills on those issues he has already signed executive actions for, but he never threatens to veto any bill to push the unemployment benefits extension through Congress and now evens forgets to mention it.

President Barack Obama highlighted the improved economy in his press conference and weekly address, but ignored the long-term jobless when listing what bills Congress needs to pass to help the middle class, Aug 1, 2014
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Obama referenced in his opening remarks on the economy from his press conference both the July Jobs report and the news that the U.S. economy grew by 4 percent in the second quarter, the best shape the economy has been in since 2005. President's Obama used his weekly address entitled "It's Time for Congress to Help the Middle Class" to also brag about the improving economy specifically the falling unemployment rates. Obama called the economic achievement "the longest streak of private-sector job creation in our history."

Speaking of the jobs report Obama focused on putting the July statistics in historical context, making sure the sound even better than might be. Obama was not just boasting at his own achievements, but also as a campaign pitch for the Democrats in the midterm election campaign. Obama announced "This morning, we learned that our economy created over 200,000 new jobs in July. That's on top of about 300,000 new jobs in June. So we are now in a six-month streak with at least 200,000 new jobs each month. That's the first time that has happened since 1997. Over the past year, we've added more jobs than any year since 2006. And all told, our businesses have created 9.9 million new jobs over the past 53 months. That's the longest streak of private sector job creation in our history."

When referring to the economic growth this past quarter Obama again boasted; "And as we saw on Wednesday, the economy grew at a strong pace in the spring. Companies are investing. Consumers are spending. American manufacturing, energy, technology, autos -- all are booming. And thanks to the decisions that we've made, and the grit and resilience of the American people, we've recovered faster and come farther from the recession than almost any other advanced country on Earth."

President Obama made almost the same declaration about the economic recovery in his press conference and weekly address. Speaking at the press conference Obama made the over-generalization "So the good news is the economy clearly is getting stronger. Things are getting better. Our engines are revving a little bit louder. And the decisions that we make right now can sustain and keep that growth and momentum going."

The president highlighted that there are measures and legislation that if passed can help the economy continue to grow. Obama pointed out; "Unfortunately, there are a series of steps that we could be taking to maintain momentum, and perhaps even accelerate it; there are steps that we could be taking that would result in more job growth, higher wages, higher incomes, more relief for middle-class families." As the punchline, the president put all the blame on the Republicans in Congress for those bills not being passed "And so far, at least, in Congress, we have not seen them willing or able to take those steps."

President Obama accentuated his dedication to helping the middle class by sharply contrasting himself from the Republicans at three points in his weekly address declaring; "My top priority as President is doing everything I can to create more jobs and more opportunities for hardworking families to get ahead," and later stating; "I'll never stop trying to work with both parties to get things moving faster for the middle class." President Obama concluded his address with a promise; "I will never stop doing whatever I can, whenever I can, not only to make sure that our economy succeeds, but that people like you succeed."

President Obama's entire address focused on the legislation the Republicans in Congress are preventing from passing and helping middle class improve their economic position. Unlike his press conference were the president listed all the ways the Republicans have made Congress dysfunctional in both domestic and foreign issues, in his weekly address he focused on economic concerns, stating; "All of them would help working families feel more stable and secure. And all of them have been blocked or ignored by Republicans in Congress."

With all the talk about possible impeachment over his ever growing list of executive actions taken in domestic policy since the start of the year, Obama still justified and praised himself for taking action when Congress does not, even poking fun at the House Republicans who voted to sue him over the health care law's the Affordable Care Act otherwise known as Obamacare's delayed employer mandate. The Republican House voted 225 to 201 in pre-recess vote on Wednesday, July 30 to sue the president for not having Congress vote on delay.

Mocking and making light of the vote Obama expressed; "That's why my administration keeps taking what actions we can on our own to help working families - because Congress is doing so little for working families. House Republicans actually got together this week and voted to sue me for taking actions on my own. And then they left town for the month without settling a bunch of unfinished business that matters to working families across America."

In President Obama's sunshine view of the economic recovery, he seemed to have forgotten the 3.2 million long-term jobless Americans, who after more than 26 weeks of unemployment still suffer and cannot find jobs. Making their situation even more difficult is the fact that for over eight months since the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program expired on Dec. 28, 2013, these Americans slowly lost benefits that helped them survive.

During those same eight months two senators Republican Dean Heller, R-NV and Democrat, Jack Reed, D-RI have been working to pass a bill to extend benefits and reinstitute the EUC program that started in 2008 at the start of the great recession and economic downturn, after a failure in February, they finally reached an acceptable bipartisan deal in March.

The first Reed-Heller bill passed the Senate with a bipartisan vote on April 7, 2014. The bill included a retroactive element with a five-month deadline valid only from Dec. 28, 2013 to June 1, 2014. Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH objected to the bill's retroactive aspect calling it "unimplementable" and insisted that it include job creation elements. Boehner also insisted that President Obama or the White House provide in general a list of acceptable job creating provisions to the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014.

Boehner particularly pressured the president since after the bill passed in the Senate and transferred to the committee stage in the House. Job creation provisions were a key demand from the speaker in order to put the bill to a House vote. Obama had his press secretaries respond and his Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez in a May 7 letter to Boehner only provided the speaker a Democratic job creation wish list, but not one that would satisfy Republicans and would help.

President Obama however, never did and still has no plans to phone and discuss the bill with the speaker, instead giving campaign style speeches blaming the GOP have been his mantra, because they help the Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections. Like this his weekly address and press conference held on Friday, August 1, 2014, Obama patted himself on the back for the improved economy and July jobs report, but ignored the rest of the report that showed long-term unemployment stagnant and even rising.

Sen. Heller puts more of the blame on President Obama then even the Republican controlled House of Representatives. Heller blames the White House and President Obama for the bill's failure, because they refused to negotiate with Boehner and would not provide him with an acceptable list of job creating provisions as he requested in order for the speaker to put the bill to a vote in the House.

Sens. Reed and Heller introduced on June 24, another unemployment benefits extension bill. The new stand-alone bill attempts to comply more with Speaker of the House John Boehner's, R-OH demands. The bill will have a five-month extension, lasting approximately until the end of 2014, does not have a deadline, and will cost a total of $10 billion.

The new bill is doing worse than the first one, with even the Senate ignoring the bill. It no longer has five Republicans supporting it, only Heller, which would make it difficult to pass the legislative hurdles and advance in the Senate. The bill lost its funding when the House and Republican authored Highway Trust Fund bill decided to use the unemployment benefits extension bill's funding of "pension smoothing" and "extending customs fees," leaving the bill without a funding source. Since the Highway Trust Fund bill had to pass by Aug. 1, if not transportation funding would have been cut by 28 percent with "100,000 transportation projects" and "700,000 construction jobs" on the line it had been deemed a priority to President Obama, the GOP House and Democratic Senate.

Additionally, although Reed and Heller were working to add the unemployment benefits extension bill to a popular bipartisan bill, one by one Congress passed their options, while Congress ignored the unemployment extension and left it out in the cold. First the authors' of the Senate bipartisan Workforce Investment Act, a job training bill did not want to include the bill as a supplemental as to not hinder the bill's passage. Then there was the business tax cuts extenders bill "S.2260 - EXPIRE Act of 2014" that failed to advance in the Senate. Reed and Heller also wanted the extension added to the emergency border crisis spending bill with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV being at first opened to the idea and then decided against it. In the end, that bill also failed to advance in the Senate.

The July jobs report showed good news about the economy, specifically regarding short-term term unemployment and job creation. According to the report, the unemployment rate rose slightly from 6.2 percent from 6.1 percent and 209,000 jobs were added, with 238,000 created. The numbers were less than originally suspected, but are still considered a victory for the economy because it marks the sixth month that the economy has added more than 200,00 jobs. As President Obama pointed out it at his press conference; "That's the first time that has happened since 1997."

Over three million long-term jobless Americans have been unemployed for more than 27 weeks; they need the benefits to survive. Although the total unemployment rate keeps falling each month, the long-term jobless rate remains virtually the same with high numbers at 3.2 million for July. The long-term unemployment fell by 293,000 and in total has dropped 700,000 in the past three months since March, and dropped by 1.1 million since July 2013.

There are however, still 3.2 million unemployed for six months or more, and compromise 32.9 percent of all unemployed Americans. Older workers, women and younger workers with in service and blue-collar jobs with only a high school diploma are the most affected. The Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program expired on Dec. 28, 2013, the EUC program usually has been renewed as long as the long-term jobless rate is above 1.3 percent. Here it is eight months later with long-term unemployment essentially not and Congress is no closer in fact further from passing an extension than it was then.

Although President Obama never mentioned the unemployment benefits extension in either his press conference and subsequent weekly address, he did acknowledge that more can be done for the middle class if Congress the passes Obama's economic agenda. In his weekly address, he admitted; "The bottom line is this - we've come a long way these past five and a half years. Our challenges are nowhere near as daunting as they were back then. But imagine how much farther along our economy would be - how much stronger our country would be - if Congress would do its job."

Obama and Democrats have chosen economic opportunity as their key issue in the midterm election campaign. The Democrats are on the edge where they might lose six seats and their control on the Senate. They already realize regaining control of the House of Representatives is virtually impossible at this point. Presidents often see their parties lose seats in the second midterm elections of their terms, and Obama and Democrats are trying to curb that precedent.

The economic opportunity program however, has not energized the base and voters as much as the Democrats had hoped. However, more recently Obama has recently completely forgotten the 3.2 million long-term jobless Americans, probably because to him the bill is not a winning battle with Congress and with voters. President Obama will no doubt ably continue his campaign rhetoric as the year progresses, boasting of his administration's accomplishments, focusing on economic issues important to the Democratic base and included in the Obama budget and attack, attack and mock the Republicans hoping it will be enough to keep the Senate come November.

RELATED LINKS

  • President Barack Obama’s Press Conference, Aug. 1, 2014

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.