By Ian Swanson - 07/02/10 02:36 PM EDT
Democrats are intensifying their criticism of Senate Republicans for holding up an extension of unemployment benefits.
Republicans are “putting our economy at risk” by blocking a $33 billion bill extending the benefits, according to Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the Joint Economic Committee.
Maloney spoke to The Hill after a June report by the Labor Department showed the economy lost 125,000 jobs for the month.
The Labor report showed private businesses added only 83,000 workers for the month of June. The unemployment rate dropped to 9.5 percent, but that reflected a smaller pool of people searching for work.
Congress has been trying to reach a deal to extend unemployment benefits for more than two months, but the Senate this week again failed to reach an agreement.
Most Senate Republicans and Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) voted against the legislation because it would add to the nation’s record deficit. They insist the bill’s cost should be offset with other spending cuts.
The loss of benefits has affected 1.2 million people so far, according to an estimate by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), which harshly criticized the GOP for blocking legislation.
“It’s absurd to think that most Republicans and some Democrats just spent an entire month — several months — battling against jobless benefit extensions when the job market remains so weak,” said Christine Owens, NELP’s executive director.
She estimated there are five unemployed workers for every job opening.
“Allowing jobless benefits to expire in this climate is like going to the doctor when you’re sick but refusing to take the medication,” she said.
The Labor report said the number of long-term unemployed, who have been jobless for at least 26 weeks, remained unchanged in June at 6.8 million.
States provide up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. The extension would have provided as much as another 73 weeks in the states hit hardest by the recession.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine also piled on Republicans, accusing the GOP of obstructing his party’s efforts to jumpstart the economy.
“I urge them to set aside their politically motivated obstructionism and work with Democrats to continue to improve our economy,” Kaine said.
Many economists have argued extending the unemployment benefits would provide some stimulus to an economy that some fear is on the verge of a double-dip recession.
But worries about record deficits have taken hold in Congress and made it difficult to move the unemployment package.
Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins support extending the benefits even if they are not offset, but they are the only members of their party to cross that line so far.
Republicans focused their message on Friday on what they said was a meager jobs report.
“This jobs report is a disappointment for every family and every small business who heard President Obama declare just weeks ago that our economy is 'getting stronger by the day,’ ” GOP Leader John Boehner (Ohio) said in a statement.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) issued a research note to reporters that focused on the “jobless summer,” a knock on the administration’s “recovery summer” slogan.
RNC Chairman Michael Steele said a doubling down by President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats on spending would lead to a Republican Congress in November.
Owens, the NELP executive director, said Congress had never before cut off benefits when unemployment was so high.
She said the highest previous rate where benefits were allowed to expire was 7.2 percent during the 1983 recession.