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Obama backs mayors’ call for more federal money, higher wage

- The Washington Times - Friday, December 13, 2013

Meeting with newly elected mayors at the White House Friday, President Obama called on Congress to spend more money "right away" for extended unemployment benefits and to raise the federal minimum wage to help struggling cities.

"You've got potentially 1.3 million people during Christmas time that are going to lose their unemployment benefits at a time when it's still very difficult for a lot of folks to find a job," Mr. Obama said. "That's not just bad for those individuals and those families, that's bad for our economy and that's bad for our cities."

A two-year budget deal approved by the House Thursday does not include a Democratic-backed extension of long-term unemployment benefits, which would cost taxpayers about $26 billion through next year. Senate leaders have said they will take up the matter when lawmakers return to Washington in January.

Mr. Obama said Congress should act on the unemployment benefits immediately, although the House has gone out of session for the holidays. He said the expiration of benefits will hurt local economies.

"If they don't have the money to pay the rent and buy food for their families that has an impact on demand for our businesses and what we know is a failure to extend unemployment benefits is going to have a drag on economic growth next year," the president said.

As he has for most of this year, Mr. Obama also urged lawmakers to raise the federal minimum wage, now $7.25 per hour. Although Mr. Obama initially proposed raising it to $9 per hour in his State of the Union address, he is now backing a proposal by congressional Democrats to hike the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.

The president said raising the federal hourly wage "could have a tremendous boost in a lot of the cities where there are a lot of service workers who get up and do some of the critical work for all us every single day, but often times still find themselves just above poverty or in some case below poverty."

The Senate leadership hopes to complete the budget deal next week, a prospect that the president said will give businesses and local governments some certainty.

"If we can in fact get this budget deal complete and out of the Senate, we can get away for the first time in a couple years from the constant brinksmanship and crisis governance that we've seen up on Capitol Hill that impedes growth and makes businesses and investors less certain about wanting to put their money in," Mr. Obama said. "That would be an important achievement and something the federal government can do to help mayors."

Meeting with Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden were Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti; New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio; Detroit Mayor-elect Mike Duggan; Mayor-elect Rick Kriseman of St. Petersburg, Fla.; Boston Mayor-elect Martin Walsh; Mayor-elect Betsy Hodges of Minneapolis, Minn.; Mayor Steven Fulop of Jersey City, N.J.; Mayor-elect Lovely Warren of Rochester, N.Y.; Mayor-elect Patrick Cannon of Charlotte, N.C.; Mayor Nancy Vaughan of Greensboro, N.C.; Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley; Mayor-elect D. Michael Collins of Toledo, Ohio; Mayor-elect Eric Papenfuse of Harrisburg, Pa.; Pittsburgh Mayor-elect Bill Peduto; Mayor Andy Berke of Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Seattle Mayor-elect Ed Murray.

Among the topics discussed at the meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House were transportation, infrastructure projects and education.

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