* Obama seeking to redirect Americans’ frustration
* “It’s time to do what’s right,” he says
* Republicans seek to avoid adding to deficit (Adds Gibbs, Hatch comments)
By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON, July 19 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama accused his Republican opponents on Monday of playing election-year politics by refusing to join with Democrats in approving an extension of U.S. jobless benefits.
Obama, under pressure to reduce the 9.5 percent U.S. jobless rate, sought to direct some of Americans’ frustration over the sputtering economy toward the Republicans, who are hoping for big gains in Nov. 2 congressional elections.
In Rose Garden remarks, Obama said Republicans have opposed a $34 billion extension of benefits for the unemployed in this instance but had voted for such extensions when Republican President George W. Bush had asked for them.
Republicans say they would support the benefits but want them to be paid for with spending cuts instead of simply using borrowed money that adds to the ballooning U.S. national debt.
“It’s time to stop holding workers laid off in this recession hostage to Washington politics. It’s time to do what’s right, not for the next election, but for the middle class,” Obama said with three unemployed workers joining him on the steps of the Rose Garden.
“There are times when you put elections aside,” he added. “This is one of those times.”
The Senate is expected to pass the benefits extension on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Democrats hold a 58-41 advantage over Republicans in the chamber, but need 60 votes to overcome parliamentary blocking maneuvers. Their 59th vote will come on Tuesday when West Virginia Democrat Carte Goodwin is sworn in to fill the vacancy left by the death of Democratic Senator Robert Byrd.
Democrats are expected to get favorable votes from two Maine Republicans, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, while losing Nebraska Democratic Senator Ben Nelson.
A swearing-in ceremony for Goodwin is set for 2:15 p.m./1815 GMT on Tuesday, with a procedural vote on the unemployment benefits 15 minutes later. Final passage is likely later in the day, a Democratic aide said.
The House of Representatives is expected to approve the measure later in the week and send it to Obama to sign into law.
Senate Republicans have argued that the $34 billion cost of extending benefits through November could be covered by cutting other programs.
“If we can’t pay for a program like extension of unemployment insurance that ... every member of the Senate wants to extend, then what are we going to pay for?” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on CNN on Sunday.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs defended the use of borrowed money to pay for the benefits, saying it is justified in an economic emergency.
“If you came home and you had a leak in your roof, but you didn’t have the money to pay for it, and the only think you could do was borrow the money, would you argue at the kitchen table that everybody ought to just get wet until we can scrape together the money to pay for it?” he said.
Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said that Obama, instead of acknowledging his economic policies have not lived up to his administration’s promises, had “blamed everyone but his own White House for the economic morass we’re in.”
“That’s not the kind of leadership we need,” Hatch said.
All 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 36 Senate seats are up for grabs in November, and most political experts believe it is possible Republicans could win the House and challenge Democratic control of the Senate.
A poll conducted for Third Way, a moderate think tank, suggested that Republicans have been successful at shedding the economic image of deficit spending left over from the Bush years.
It said two-thirds of Americans now see congressional Republicans and their economic ideas as new and completely separate from those of the former president.
“If in November, voters continue to believe that Republican ideas are new and different from President Bush, the poll shows they could win control of Congress. But the poll also showed a glimmer of light for Democrats, indicating that if they can tie their opponents to Bush’s economic ideas, they can win,” Third Way said. (Additional reporting by Alister Bull, Patricia Zengerle and Andy Sullivan; editing by David Alexander and Paul Simao)