As he prepares to return to Washington, President Obama has made clear his immediate priority in 2014 is to sign into law an extension of long-term jobless benefits, and on Saturday he suggested Republicans make it their “New Year’s resolution” to support that effort.
“For decades, Republicans and Democrats have put partisanship and ideology aside to offer some security for job-seekers,” Mr. Obama said in his weekly address. “Instead of punishing families who can least afford it, Republicans should make it their New Year’s resolution to do the right thing and restore this vital economic security for their constituents right now.”
Next Tuesday, Mr. Obama — who comes back Sunday from an lengthy holiday vacation in Hawaii — will host a White House meeting with some of the 1.3 million Americans who saw their unemployment insurance expire on Dec. 28.
The meeting is the latest step in the administration’s ongoing effort to push, prod and shame Congress into extending those benefits, which have become something of a political lightning rod as congressional Republicans demand budget offsets to pay for any extension.
But the White House isn’t focusing on the costs, estimated to be about $6.5 billion for a three-month extension, as is currently being proposed in the Senate.
Instead, Mr. Obama and other administration officials are casting an extension as the right, American thing to do.
“We make this promise to one another because it makes a difference to a mother who needs help feeding her kids while she’s looking for work; to a father who needs help paying the rent while learning the skills to get a new and better job,” Mr. Obama said. “And denying families that security is just plain cruel. We’re a better country than that. We don’t abandon our fellow Americans when times get tough. We keep the faith with them until they start that new job.”
The counter-argument, offered by some congressional Republicans and others, is that extending unemployment benefits yet again actually makes it less likely that out-of-work Americans will go out and find “that new job,” as the president put it.
Still, it’s politically treacherous for the GOP to be seen as standing in the way of financial help for those still looking for work in a down economy. That’s led some Republicans to seek a bipartisan solution.
A Senate bill to extend benefits for three months, sponsored by Sen. Dean Heller, Nevada Republican, and Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, could come up for a vote as soon as Monday.
Senate leaders, however, reportedly aren’t sure it will garner the needed 60 votes to proceed.
The past several days have seen an all-out push from the administration and congressional Democrats ahead of next week’s possible vote. In addition to the president’s address, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and other officials hosted a conference call Friday focused on the economic consequences of of not extending jobless benefits.
He argued that past Congresses routinely extended unemployment benefits without demanding offsets elsewhere in the budget.
“There is a long, proud, bipartisan history of expanding emergency unemployment benefits during times like this, dating back decades, whether it was the recession of 1981 or as recently as four years ago, when President Bush was president,” Mr. Perez said on MSNBC’s “The Daily Rundown.”
Congressional Democrats held their own conference call and focused on the same issue. They touted a new analysis, conducted by House Ways and Means Committee Democrats, showing that more than $400 million has bled out of the economy since benefits expired last week.