President Obama on Saturday urged lawmakers to extend unemployment benefits set to expire by year’s end, saying that failing to do so would deal a blow to the economy and millions of struggling families.
“For many families, it can be the difference between hardship and catastrophe,” said Obama in his weekly address.
“If Congress refuses to act, it won’t just hurt families already struggling – it will actually harm our economy. Unemployment insurance is one of the most effective ways there is to boost our economy,” he added.
The jobless benefits are set to expire for 1.3 million workers on Dec. 28.
Obama cited reports from the Congressional Budget Office that said that allowing the benefits to lapse could slow economic growth, and said his own economic advisers “estimated that it could cost businesses 240,000 jobs.”
The president laid the blame for the lack of action on Republicans, days after he said GOP lawmakers should be "embarrassed" by their record.
“It shouldn’t be a partisan issue. For decades, Congress has voted to offer relief to job-seekers – including when the unemployment rate was lower than it is today,” he said. “But now that economic lifeline is in jeopardy. All because Republicans in this Congress, which is on track to be the most unproductive in history, have so far refused to extend it.”
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., are nearing a year-end budget deal, but it is unlikely that their compromise will include an extension of jobless benefits.
On Friday, the White House suggested they would not insist that a Ryan-Murray budget deal include the benefits extension, but said Congress should take up the issue.
“We, as the president said, believe Congress should extend unemployment insurance,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney. “The vehicle that they use to do that is less important than the fact that they do it.”
Obama's remarks also come after the administration received a boost on Friday, with new figures showing that the unemployment rate had dropped to 7 percent as the economy added approximately 200,000 jobs in November.
“That’s more than 8 million new jobs in the last 45 months,” said Obama, touting the economic report. “And the unemployment rate fell to its lowest level in five years.”