President Barack Obama chastised the Republicans on Saturday morning, May 3, 2014 in his weekly address entitled "The President's Year of Action" about the executive actions his has taken when Congress has failed to pass important economic legislation. Obama heavily criticized the Republicans for not passing the Senate pass unemployment benefits extension bill and other important legislation that is part of his economic oportunity program. President Obama is not appreciating that the Republican controlled House of Representatives refusing to pass the unemployment benefits extension bill or Republicans in Congress in general be it the House or Senate for not passing legislation that would help lower income and middle class Americans
Nearly 3 million long-term jobless have been left without any benefits since Dec. 28, 2013 when Congress let the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program expire. The clock is ticking for the House of Representatives to pass the unemployment benefits extension as the Senate bill has an end of May best before date, or else Congress will have to go back to the drawing board. At this point Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH refuses to put the bill the Senate passed on April 7 to a vote, because it does not include job creation measures. He wanted the White House to list acceptable provisions to be added to the bill, however, neither Obama nor Senate Majority Leader Harry, Reid, D-NV want any added.
Meanwhile there is interest from House Republicans to past the bill, but most of them want to add Republican favored provisions; business tax provisions, passing the XL Keystone Pipeline along with modifying the health care law, and the most popular one adding a job training programs restructure bill. The unemployment benefits extension bill is left stuck in a standstill between Republicans who want provisions and the Democrats who refuse, leaving three million Americans abandoned and caught in the midterm elections arguments. President Obama urged Congress that "we need to keep going – to create more good jobs, and give middle-class families a sense of security. And I want to work with Congress to do it."
Starting the day on Saturday, May 3, the president's weekly address was released, where President Obama touted the executive actions he signed as part of his promise in his State of Union Address to make 2014 a year of economic action. The address accompanied a new White House report that was also released on Saturday on Obama's Year of Action. President Obama explained; "That's why, in my State of the Union Address, I said that in this Year of Action, whenever I can act on my own to create jobs and expand opportunity for more Americans, I will. And since January, I've taken more than 20 executive actions to do just that."
President Obama listed and criticized all the bills the House and Senate Republicans have either blocked or failed to pass, including highlighting the House Republicans refusing to pass the Senate's unemployment benefits extension bill. Obama pointed out; "But so far this year, Republicans in Congress have blocked or voted down every serious idea to create jobs and strengthen the middle class. They've said "no" to raising the minimum wage, "no" to equal pay for equal work, and "no" to restoring the unemployment insurance they let expire for more than two million Americans looking for a new job."
President Obama has signed 20 executive orders or memorandums since the end of January all part of his economic opportunity program, and he listed them in his weekly address. Among the executive actions Obama recited include; fair and equal pay, raising the hourly and tipped minimum wage for federal workers, revised overtime pay regulations, high tech manufacturing hubs, revising job training programs, and educational initiatives. President Obama also made a point of also mentioning the executive action he signed to help ease the problems and the prejudice that long-term unemployed face when too look for work after being unemployed for more than six months, which Obama described "give[s] more of the long-term unemployed a better shot at finding a job."
At the end of January President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met with the CEOs of 20 major companies at the White House where Obama urged the CEOs not "discriminate" and give them an equal chance and hire those unemployed for a long time. A total of 300 major companies and corporations "signed on" to the president's initiative. Then Obama signed an executive memorandum that would require the federal government not to discriminate against the long-term jobless during the hiring process.
All those executive actions related to jobs and wages only apply to federal contractors, and the federal government, to apply them to all Americans President Obama still needs Congress to pass legislation that would apply nationwide. President Obama criticized the Republicans for not working towards jobs bills and instead remained just focused on the Affordable Cart Act, the health care law. Obama expressed; "But we could do a lot more if Republicans in Congress were less interested in stacking the deck in favor of those at the top, and more interested in growing the economy for everybody. They've now voted more than 50 times to take apart the Affordable Care Act - imagine if they voted 50 times on serious jobs bills."
Obama concluded his weekly address promising to continue to take that legislative action to help the middle class. Obama declared; "That's why I'm going to take action on my own wherever I can. To grow our economy from the middle-out, not the top down. To give every American who works hard a chance to get ahead. That's what this Year of Action is all about, and that's what I'm going to keep fighting for." However, there are no other presidential actions Obama can take to help the long-term jobless. Obama needs Congress to be able to extend unemployment benefits and the Speaker of the House Boehner continues to oppose placing the bill to a House vote, placing the blame on the White House.
The GOP leadership did not let the president go by with the criticism. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY after stated that "Slogans won't solve those problems. That takes real action." While Speaker Boehner continued insisting on job creation, his spokesman Brendan Buck commented that if President Obama "wanted action, he'd use his pen to approve the Keystone pipeline or use his phone to get Democrats behind a bipartisan plan to boost American exports and create jobs."
Since Dec. 28, 2013 nearly 3 million Americans lost access to benefits, and each week about 70,000 Americans have lost benefits, by the end of the year 1.6 million more Americans will lose benefits. With the new April jobs report released on May 2, 2014 it will be even more difficult to convince reluctant Republicans to extend unemployment benefits. The economy added 288,000 jobs, the most for one month in two years, while the unemployment rate plummeted from 6.7 percent down to 6.3 percent, the lowest since September 2008, just before the economic crisis.
Meanwhile, the long-term unemployment rate also fell, according to USA Today there are 287,000 less Americans unemployed for longer than six months. Now the total stands at 3.5 million Americans or 35.5 percent all unemployed Americans. President Obama touted the sucessful jobs report in his address, stating; "All told, our businesses have now created 9.2 million new jobs over 50 consecutive months of job growth." However, the increased sucess and recovery of the economy works against his argument that the unemployment benefit extension needs to be passed.
Obama and Democrats have chosen economic opportunity and raising the minimum wage 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. Republicans have the advantage according to CNN as the midterm elections get closer. 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.
President Obama will no doubtably continue on closer to the elections with similar addresses attacking the Republicans hoping it will be enough to keep the Senate come November. In the end the partisan divide of a midterm election year will prevent such important legislation as the unemployment extension bill from passing, and the Democrats and Republicans will leave America's long-term jobs victims of their election year political battles.
- Year of Action White House Report: See What President Obama Has Done This Year To Help Ensure Opportunity For All Ameicans, May 3, 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. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.