Sperling, the director of President Obama's National Economic Council, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Monday "is the day that 1.3 million Americans go to their mailbox and find that the check that they'd been relying on to put food on their table, put gas in their cars to look for a new job, will not be there."
Sperling urged Congress to extend the Emergency Unemployment Compensation for three months. The program expired in December, immediately ending benefits for 1.3 million of the 4.1 million Americans out of work for 27 weeks or longer and cutting off benefits for thousands of others expected to exhaust their 26 weeks of benefits in the weeks ahead.
"What we're finding is that the worst legacy of the Great Recession is that there's a crisis in long-term unemployment," Sperling said on CNN's "State of the Union."
Sperling suggested that Obama would advocate striking a "grand bargain" with Congress that would create jobs by addressing issues like increased infrastructure spending, corporate tax reform, immigration reform and housing-finance reform. But in the short term, re-upping the unemployment benefits is a priority for the White House, even if those new benefits are not paid for with offsets elsewhere in the budget.
"Fourteen of the last 17 times that emergency unemployment's been extended, there have been no strings attached," Sperling said on NBC. "All five times that President Bush extended unemployment benefits, there were no pay-fors."
Sperling suggested that the Senate and House should immediately pass a bill from Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., to extend the emergency jobless benefits for a month. After that, said Sperling, "we can have time to then work for what is the best way to extend it for the rest of the year."
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Heller-Reed bill would cost roughly $6.4 billion. And House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that that entire cost has to be offset with cuts elsewhere in the budget.
Sperling declined to hazard a prediction for U.S. economic growth in 2014, but cited "positive signs" and "momentum" heading into the year. The emergency unemployment insurance program phases out as the unemployment rate, currently at 7 percent, falls. "People need to understand that emergency unemployment [insurance] automatically tapers off," said Sperling.