As President Obama rang in 2014 in Hawaii, the director of his National Economic Council said Wednesday there would be "no better New Year's resolution for Congress" than to make its first legislative priority restoring emergency unemployment benefits for the estimated 1.3 million people who were cut off Dec. 28.
"Because these workers are only eligible for this emergency assistance if they are actively looking for work, extension will help encourage many of the long-term unemployed to keep at it even if they are getting discouraged," Gene Sperling said in a statement released Wednesday by the White House.
Sens. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, and Dean Heller, Nevada Republican, are pushing for a three-month extension of the benefits that would not be paid for in other parts of the budget. A three-month extension would cost approximately $6.5 billion, and a year-long extension would cost $24 billion or $25 billion.
Democrats and Republicans have clashed over whether the benefits do, in fact, need to be paid for in other parts of the budget. House Republicans say they'll consider a plan to extend the benefits if there's a proposal to pay for them, but Democrats say that because it's emergency insurance it's more like a natural disaster and thus doesn't need to be paid for.
Mr. Sperling said failing to extend the program through 2014 would hurt 4.9 million workers. He also said the benefits, by design, will taper off as the unemployment rate falls around the country.
"We as Americans can choose to have each other's backs when we face serious spells of long-term unemployment," he said. "At a time when we as a nation should be moving forward in our efforts to help those who are long-term unemployed find new jobs, we should not take a harsh step backwards by abruptly cutting off their unemployment insurance."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, recently told the Associated Press that the Senate will hold a vote on jobless aid Monday, with the chamber expected to take up the Reed-Heller measure on its first day back from a two-week break.
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