U.S. President Barack Obama slammed Republicans on Saturday for thwarting his efforts to boost the economy, and urged them to stop playing politics with the nation's future ahead of key November elections.
"I know the political season is upon us in Washington. But gridlock as a political strategy is destructive to the country," Obama said, nodding to the mid-term congressional vote that could weaken his Democratic Party's hold on power.
"That's why I was disappointed this week to see a dreary and familiar politics get in the way of our ability to move forward on a series of critical issues that have a direct impact on people's lives," Obama said in his weekly address.
Senate Republicans on Thursday defeated a $55 billion bill by Democrats to extend jobless benefits and popular tax breaks, arguing it added too much to the U.S. deficit, projected to hit a record $1.56 trillion in fiscal 2010.
But the White House wants to boost jobs now, and sees the deficit debate as a way for Republicans to hamper its response to painfully high unemployment and reap rewards in November if voters turn on Democrats for failing to lift hiring.
"The legislation in the Senate right now would extend unemployment benefits to those workers who lost their job through no fault of their own," Obama said.
"Unfortunately, the Republican leadership in the Senate won't even allow this legislation to come up for a vote. And if this obstruction continues, unemployed Americans will see their benefits stop," he said.
The U.S. jobless rate was 9.7 per cent in May and the economy remains fragile as it recovers from a deep recession inherited the White House consistently points out from Republican President George W. Bush.
Obama traveled to the Midwest on Friday to showcase jobs created by a $787 billion emergency spending package he signed last year. Voter worry over the deficit is likely to dominate in November, alongside anxiety over the economy and employment.
The trip out of Washington ended a week overshadowed by BP Plc's Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, and Obama used the example of Republican opposition in Congress to characterize his political opponents as allies of the oil industry.
"All we ask for is a simple up or down vote," he said. That's what the American people deserve. Just like they deserve an up or down vote on legislation that would hold oil companies accountable for the disasters they cause -- a vote that is also being blocked by the Republican leadership in the Senate."
An up or down vote in Congress refers to a simply yes or no vote, as opposed to procedural delaying tactics by the opposition party if, as is the case now for Obama's Democrats, the majority lacks control of 60 seats in the Senate to halt such maneuvers.