CBS Continues to Pressure Congress to Extend Unemployment Benefits

Jeff Glor and Bill Plante, CBS On Saturday's CBS Evening News, anchor Jeff Glor decided what should be at the top of Congress's agenda as it returned from the July 4th recess: "Congress returns to Washington next week to face a big backlog of unfinished business, and topping the list is the future of unemployment benefits."

In a report that followed, senior White House correspondent Bill Plante chided elected officials for going on vacation without resolving the issue: "It's been ten days since senators went home for their July 4th vacation without extending unemployment benefits....They've now run out for more than 1.3 million people and the Labor Department says that number could rise to 3 million by the end of this month."  

Plante then touted Democrats blaming the GOP for the inaction: "As he campaigns for Democrats, the President paints the lack of new benefits as Republican heartlessness....There were protests this week from labor unions against some Senate Republicans. This one in Lexington, Kentucky directed at the GOP leader Mitch Mcconnell, calling for action when the Senate returns next week." Plante noted the Republican response to such claims: "But Mcconnell blames Democrats for refusing to cut spending to pay the $34 billion cost of the extension."

Saturday's broadcast was taking over where CBS had left off prior to the holiday. As Congress adjourned on July 1, fill-in Evening News anchor Scott Pelley proclaimed: "We have decided to start with the 1.3 million Americans whose unemployment benefits have run out, stopped cold, in the last 30 days. And we're starting there because the U.S. Senate went on vacation today without solving the problem." Correspondent Chip Reid then reported: "So who's fault is that? On the surface, it appears Senate Republicans are to blame. Led by Mitch McConnell, they killed the bill with a filibuster. But McConnell points the finger at Democrats, especially Leader Harry Reid, for refusing to pay for the bill in this age of sky-high deficits."

Unlike the July 1 coverage, Saturday's Evening News briefly highlighted the debate among economists over whether unemployment benefits even should be extended. Plante explained: "Some economists contend that unemployment benefits did not help that much in earlier recessions." A clip was played of University of Maryland Professor Peter Morici citing past abuse of such benefits. Plante then noted: "Others believe the time paid for unemployment benefits is when the economy improves. They argue that the extension is needed right now." A clip of Moody's Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi was played: "It's the most effective stimulus that can be provided....They get a check and they spend it and it helps the economy immediately."

Despite that back and forth, Plante concluded his piece by anticipating an extension of benefits: "When the Senate returns next week they will bring the benefit extension to another vote, but not until West Virginia's governor appoints someone to fill the Senate seat of the late Robert Byrd. That should give the Democrats enough votes to pass the extension."

Also on the economic front, on Tuesday's Early Show, Plante reported the results of a new CBS News poll, which "shows that the public, when it comes to the economy, has very little confidence in either Congress or the President." He described how 54% of respondents disapprove of the President's handling of the economy and that a majority believe the recession will last at least another two years. However, Plante tempered the bad news for the White House by noting: "He'll [Obama will] blame Republicans for the policies which led up to the recession. And it may be small comfort for Democrats, but the public has just as low an opinion of Republicans in Congress."

Here is a full transcript of Plante's July 10 Saturday Evening News report:
6:35PM ET

JEFF GLOR: Congress returns to Washington next week to face a big backlog of unfinished business, and topping the list is the future of unemployment benefits. Senior White House correspondent Bill Plante has more tonight.

BILL PLANTE: It's been ten days since senators went home for their July 4th vacation without extending unemployment benefits.

ROLAND BURRIS [SENATOR, D-ILLINOIS]: The motion is not agreed to.
                                
BILL PLANTE: They've now run out for more than 1.3 million people and the Labor Department says that number could rise to 3 million by the end of this month. As he campaigns for Democrats, the President paints the lack of new benefits as Republican heartlessness.

BARACK OBAMA: They said no to extended unemployment insurance for folks who desperately needed help.

PLANTE: There were protests this week from labor unions against some Senate Republicans. This one in Lexington, Kentucky directed at the GOP leader Mitch Mcconnell, calling for action when the Senate returns next week. But Mcconnell blames Democrats for refusing to cut spending to pay the $34 billion cost of the extension.

MITCH MCCONNELL: The only reason the unemployment extension hasn't passed is because our friends on the other side simply refuse to pass a bill that does not add to the debt.

PLANTE: Some economists contend that unemployment benefits did not help that much in earlier recessions.

PETER MORICI [UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND]: Unemployment was a terribly intractable problem and we had big benefits. And many folks abused those benefits to stay out of the labor force to do other things they were interested in doing.

PLANTE: Others believe the time paid for unemployment benefits is when the economy improves. They argue that the extension is needed right now.

MARK ZANDI [CHIEF ECONOMIST, MOODY'S ANALYTICS]: It's the most effective stimulus that can be provided. Many of these people are very hard pressed. They get a check and they spend it and it helps the economy immediately.

PLANTE: When the Senate returns next week they will bring the benefit extension to another vote, but not until West Virginia's governor appoints someone to fill the Senate seat of the late Robert Byrd. That should give the Democrats enough votes to pass the extension. Jeff.

GLOR: Bill Plante at the White House tonight. Bill, thank you. 
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC