January 6th, 2014
10:33 AM ET

Obama: Extend Unemployment Insurance

President Barack Obama on Saturday called for bipartisan legislation to extend unemployment insurance, an all-important benefit for the longtime out-of-work.

"Just a few days after Christmas, more than 1 million of our fellow Americans lost a vital economic lifeline - the temporary insurance that helps folks make ends meet while they look for a job," Obama said in his weekly address.

"Republicans in Congress went home for the holidays and let that lifeline expire. And for many of their constituents who are unemployed through no fault of their own, that decision will leave them with no income at all."

The insurance expired last week when lawmakers failed to continue a 2008 recession-era federal law providing nearly a year of benefits, paid for by U.S. taxpayers, that kicked in when state jobless benefits ran out.

Congress will start the new year with an old fight: whether to extend jobless benefits for 1.3 million long-term unemployed. Obama urged lawmakers to restore the benefits.

"Right now, a bipartisan group in Congress is working on a three-month extension of unemployment insurance - and if they pass it, I will sign it. For decades, Republicans and Democrats put partisanship and ideology aside to offer some security for job-seekers, even when the unemployment rate was lower than it is today. 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," Obama said.

Democrats argue the program is needed to sustain economic recovery and offer a lifeline to those struggling to keep their heads above water financially. Republicans counter the benefits are an economic drain and a disincentive to looking for work. The Congressional Budget Office estimates continuing them for another year will cost about $26 billion.

Many Republicans, including potential 2016 presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, have long insisted that the Great Recession-era extension of emergency federal benefits deters job hunting and is unnecessary as the economy rebounds and unemployment declines.

Obama said denial of the security provided by the benefits "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," he said.

"What's more, it actually slows down the economy for all of us. If folks can't pay their bills or buy the basics, like food and clothes, local businesses take a hit and hire fewer workers. That's why the independent Congressional Budget Office says that unless Congress restores this insurance, we'll feel a drag on our economic growth this year. And after our businesses created more than 2 million new jobs last year, that's a self-inflicted wound we don't need," Obama said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, plans to hold the first vote toward renewing the benefits on Monday, the day the Senate returns from its holiday recess. It will be a procedural test of a proposal to stretch the program another three months.

Democrats do not yet know whether they have enough Republican support to get the 60 votes necessary to clear the procedural hurdle, a senior leadership aide told CNN. The fight has played out repeatedly over the past few years as the two parties clashed in often dramatic showdowns rife with fiery rhetoric and lengthy filibusters.

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    January 15, 2014 at 11:56 pm | Reply
  2. Eddie Fonseca

    As Americans we live in the greatest country in the world where an average family can live the American Dream, where they own their home with a white picket fence and have two cars, also can send their kids to the best schools and colleges to earn an education that will set them up in life. That was over twenty years ago when times where great, in the good old USA, now we have family's barley having enough money to put food on their table or pay their rent when other people in other country's with less money are doing far better then we are. The average American worker has to asking a few questions to their government leaders, do you think it's right when a young mother works two part time jobs and works in a mall where she know that she will never buy those toys for her kids on Christmas day. How many of us are angry at the fact that the rich people in America are drinking the fine wines, and eating the best food's when the rest of us are eating bread and cheese and maybe a glass of soft drink if we are lucky to afford it. By extending the unemployment benefits in America, we are giving the average family a chance to survive in their desperate hour of need. The old generation in America can remember a time when a single paycheck from the local GM or Ford car plant would cover the family needs from their food to their rent, what happened to those times in America have we become a nation where the rich can on survive and the poor are left to die or fend for themselves. There is an old saying in America United We Stand but divided we fall, so as Americans are we going to rise to the challenge and get our economy back on track to create jobs right here at home or will we become a nation which will tear ourselves apart from being to greedy for years to come.

    January 10, 2014 at 1:38 am | Reply

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