The Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2010, which allowed some 2.5 million jobless Americans to continue receiving benefits amid the worst economic downturn since The Great Depression, was signed by President Barack Obama on July 22, 2010.
But congressional approval of the extension came after a lengthy partisan fight.
Republicans overwhelmingly opposed the legislation, saying they believed adding $34 billion to the federal deficit and $13.3 trillion national debt was irresponsible.
In the Senate, only two GOP lawmakers sided with a unified Democratic majority in passing the bill. The remaining 39 Republicans, or 95 percent of the party's Senate membership, voted against it.
In the House, Republicans accounted for only 31 of the 272 votes in favor of the legislation. The remaining 142, or 82 percent, voted against extending unemployment compensation beyond the traditional 26 weeks.
In explaining their opposition at a time when 9.5 percent of the job-seeking population couldn't find work, Republicans in both chambers of Congress expressed concern about the federal deficit and growing national debt.
"Americans are frustrated with the amount of spending and borrowing around here," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky. "Let's not wave on through legislation that is going to worsen the deficit and dig an even deeper hole than we're in."
The July 2010 unemployment extension cost taxpayers $34 billion.
U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, said: "The American people are fed up with Washington's push to spend money we don't have, add to our crushing burden of debt, and evade accountability for the dismal results."
Obama, however, portrayed Republicans as obstructionists who were more than eager to vote for similar measures under their party's previous president, George W. Bush.
"... For a long time, there's been a tradition - under both Democratic and Republican Presidents - to offer relief to the unemployed," Obama said in a Rose Garden speech. "That was certainly the case under my predecessor, when Republican senators voted several times to extend emergency unemployment benefits."
Was Obama correct in making that claim, that Republicans were more willing to support extending benefits under a Republican president?
Let's take a look.
Unemployment Extensions in the George W. Bush Years
Here's a look a the unemployment compensation extensions passed by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush.
- Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2008 (HR 6867): This bill, which extended benefits, passed the House on Oct. 3, 2008, by a vote of 368 to 28. Of the 170 voting Republicans, 142 or 84 percent supported the extension. The measure passed the Senate by a voice vote, a parliamentary often used when legislation is not controversial.
- Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2008 (HR 2642): This bill provided federal money to states to make emergency unemployment compensation payments to workers who had exhausted all rights to regular compensation. On final passage, it sailed through the House by a vote of 416 to 12, with 186 or 95 percent of voting Republicans supporting it. It passed the Senate 92 to 6. Among Republicans, 42 of 48 supported the measure.
- Katrina Emergency Assistance Act of 2006 (S 1777): This bill, which made unemployment assistance available to people affected by Hurricane Katrina, passed by voice vote in the House and by unanimous consent in the Senate.
- Unemployment Compensation Amendments of 2003 (HR 2185): This bill, which extended unemployment benefits by 26 weeks, passed overwhelmingly in the House by a vote of 409 to 19. Among Republicans, 204 or 91 percent voted in favor of the measure. The bill passed by unanimous consent in the Senate.
- Emergency Wartime Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2003 (HR 1559): This bill provided extended benefits for displaced airline and related workers in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It passed the House by a voice vote and the Senate with unanimous consent.
- P.L. 108-1 (S 23): This bill, which provided for a five-month extension of the Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation Act of 2002, passed the House by a vote of 416 to 4. Among 222 voting Republicans, 218 supported the measure.
- Job Creation and Worker Assistance Act of 2002 (HR 3090): This bill, which extended unemployment benefits for up to 13 weeks for those who had exhausted their 26 weeks of regular coverage, passed the House by a vote of 417 to 3. All 218 voting Republicans supported it. In the Senate, the vote was 85 to 9, with only one Republican opposing the bill.
On the question of the Obama's statement that, in the Bush years, "Republican senators voted several times to extend emergency unemployment benefits," the president is correct.