POLITICS: PennAve

Obama: Make jobless benefits 'first order of business'

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Politics,White House,Congress,Barack Obama,Entitlements,PennAve,Economy,Jeremy Barr,Unemployment

President Obama on Saturday urged Congress to make extending benefits for the long-term unemployed its “first order of business” as lawmakers returned from the holiday recess.

“For decades, Republicans and Democrats put partisanship and ideology aside to offer some security for job-seekers,” Obama said in his weekly address. “And denying families that security is just cruel.”

Unemployment benefits were cut off for some 1.3 million Americans on Dec. 28 after lawmakers failed to include an extension in a year-end bipartisan budget deal.

Obama called the lapse “a self-inflicted wound we don’t need.”

The president voiced support for an emergency three-month extension measure set to hit the Senate floor next week. The bipartisan bill was crafted by Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., and would extend benefits through March.

“If they pass [the bill], I will sign it,” said Obama, who is vacationing with his family in Hawaii.

He blamed the lapse largely on congressional Republicans, who have demanded that the cost of the benefits be offset by spending cuts elsewhere.

“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.

The president argued for the insurance extension on economic as well as moral grounds.

“It actually slows down the economy for all of us,” Obama said, touting the findings of a Congressional Budget Office report. “If folks can’t pay their bills or buy the basics...local businesses take a hit and hire fewer workers.”

As of November, 4.1 million Americans have been out of work for more than six weeks.

Obama will meet with some of those who have lost their unemployment benefits on Tuesday as part of a coordinated push to get Congress to pass an extension.

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