A Democratic senator facing a tough reelection battle raised concerns behind closed doors about the Biden administration's handling of the unemployment crisis, undermining the White House's defense of extending unemployment insurance through the summer.
Sen. Maggie Hassan (D., N.H.) told constituents that expanded unemployment insurance is "making it easier for people to stay home." She attempted to reassure a New Hampshire resident that the Democratic majority in the Senate is working to reel in President Joe Biden's spending in the wake of concerns over a disappointing jobs report.
"I will tell you that in the Senate, we're having this conversation about how do you tweak this just right," Hassan said at a business roundtable on May 6. "And, if the economy is truly recovering and schools can truly reopen, should we be tweaking that right now."
Hassan said "general COVID concerns" and a lack of child care are also to blame for people staying home. She expressed concern "the unemployment benefit is making it easier for people to stay home." One day after Hassan's remarks, the Labor Department reported employers added just 266,000 jobs in April, well below the expected number of one million. Congressional Republicans have blamed the expanded unemployment benefits, which Biden's American Rescue Plan extended through September, while Biden has argued that expanded unemployment insurance has not caused the disappointing growth.
Hassan's comments come after she voted for and praised the rescue plan. Her office did not respond to a request for comment.
The New Hampshire senator is up for reelection and is widely considered the most vulnerable Senate Democrat in the 2022 cycle. Hassan won the 2016 election by 1,017 votes over Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte following a $130 million race.
Concerns about government spending and inflation threaten to force the Senate to take action to address a burgeoning employment crisis. Biden has doubled down on the expanded unemployment benefits, which the American Rescue Plan extended through Sept. 6. He did encourage states to reinstitute a pre-pandemic policy of requiring recipients to prove that they are looking for work in order to qualify for the benefit.
"The line has been because of the generous unemployment benefits, that it's a major factor in labor shortages. Americans want to work," Biden said. "I think the people claiming Americans won't work even if they find a good and fair opportunity underestimate the American people."
Republican lawmakers have argued that the extra $300 per week in unemployment insurance outpaces the hourly salaries offered by many jobs. Several red state governors have opted out of the federal unemployment programs and will withdraw completely from receiving the benefits by mid-June. Sen. Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) introduced legislation to convert the expanded unemployment benefit into a signing bonus for Americans who get a job.