Obama, Democrats push for extension of unemployment benefits

WASHINGTON Fri Dec 27, 2013 4:53pm EST

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to military personnel during a Christmas day visit to Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe, Hawaii December 25, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to military personnel during a Christmas day visit to Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe, Hawaii December 25, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - On the eve of the expiration of federal benefits for the long-term unemployed, U.S. President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies are stepping up pressure on Republicans to renew the program.

Top White House economic adviser Gene Sperling said in a statement issued on Friday that a failure to renew emergency jobless benefits would harm the economy and he urged Congress to move quickly to pass a short-term extension of the aid.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, has vowed to bring to a vote a bill extending federal unemployment insurance benefits as soon as Congress returns from its holiday recess on January 6.

"While we remain disappointed that Congress did not heed the president's call to extend emergency unemployment benefits for next year before the holidays, the president as well as the Democratic congressional leadership have made clear the importance of extending the benefits immediately upon Congress's return," Sperling said in a statement.

Sperling, director of the White House National Economic Council, endorsed legislation introduced by Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, and Dean Heller, a Republican from Nevada, that would extend the unemployment benefits for three months. He said passage of the temporary bill would allow time to consider an extension for all of 2014.

Without an extension, some 1.3 million unemployed Americans are scheduled to lose their federal jobless benefits on Saturday.

Under an emergency program created during President George W. Bush's administration in 2008, federal benefits kick in for Americans who have exhausted their state unemployment benefits. In many states, unemployment benefits run out after 26 weeks.

The federal jobless aid has been renewed every year since 2008. Many Republicans oppose an extension of jobless benefits, arguing the program was always intended to be temporary. They have also said an extension would add to the federal deficit unless it is offset by spending elsewhere in the budget.

(Reporting By Caren Bohan. Editing by Fred Barbash and Andrew Hay)

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