White House to Congress: 'Act as soon as possible' on jobless benefits

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The White House on Thursday said it expected Congress to quickly extend unemployment insurance early next year if lawmakers leave Washington before the deadline for expiring jobless benefits.

"Unfortunately, the House is leaving tomorrow. They've made clear that they go on recess for the holiday tomorrow," said White House press secretary Jay Carney. "If Congress does not act in time before those benefits expire, we would absolutely expect them to act as soon as possible upon their return."

A vote to extend such benefits, which are set to expire Dec. 28, will likely have to wait until 2013.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said the upper chamber will take up the measure in January and vote to retroactively apply the benefits. The GOP-controlled House is leaving Washington at the end of the week.

Carney said the administration would “press very aggressively” to get the legislation passed.

“We have been very clear that we strongly support the idea that Congress should extend unemployment insurance benefits to the 1.3 million Americans who will lose those benefits three days after Christmas if Congress doesn't act,” he said.

“If it was the right thing to do when [former] President George W. Bush did it … then it's the right thing to do today,” Carney added.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., this week reached a deal that would fund the government through September 2015 and roll back some sequester cuts. But their $85 billion budget deal does not extend jobless benefits by year’s end, a key demand of President Obama and Democrats.

Carney said the White House “absolutely” supported the budget agreement and urged that it be passed quickly, even though it does not include unemployment insurance.

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