President Obama informed Congress in his weekly address that they’d all be grinches if they didn’t extend unemployment insurance benefits soon, but a leading Senate Democrat indicated over the weekend that it might not be a must-have in a budget deal expected to be unveiled at the end of this week.
“Right now, more than one million of our fellow Americans are poised to lose a vital economic lifeline just a few days after Christmas if Congress doesn’t do something about it,” Obama said, branding the unemployment benefits as “the difference between hardship and catastrophe.”
“It makes a difference for a mother who suddenly doesn’t know if she’ll be able to put food on the table for her kids. It makes a difference for a father who lost his job and is looking for a new one. Last year alone, it lifted 2.5 million people out of poverty, and cushioned the blow for many more,” the president said.
“But here’s the thing: if Members of Congress don’t act before they leave on their vacations, 1.3 million Americans will lose this lifeline. These are people we know. They’re our friends and neighbors; they sit next to us in church and volunteer in our communities; their kids play with our kids. And they include 20,000 veterans who’ve served this country with honor.”
If Congress does not renew the law passed as an emergency measure in response to the financial crisis in 2008, those out of work who file for unemployment benefits in 2014 will only qualify for state benefits, which last a maximum of 26 weeks.
“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. When people have money to spend on basic necessities, that means more customers for our businesses and, ultimately, more jobs. And the evidence shows that unemployment insurance doesn’t stop people from trying hard to find work,” Obama 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. So this holiday season, let’s give our fellow Americans who are desperately looking for work the help they need to keep on looking.”
But Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Sunday on ABC that the caucus is not unified on demanding that an extension be included in the budget deal — despite the claim by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“No, I don’t think we’ve reached that point where we’ve said this is it, take it or leave it,” Durbin said.
“What I hear from Patty Murray — I spoke to her the other night — negotiations are making progress, moving in the right direction. They haven’t closed the deal. But I certainly hope as part of it, that the negotiators will take to heart what the president had to say,” he added.
Appearing alongside Durbin, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said the GOP could agree to an extension if it’s paid for.
“It’s an additional cost within this budget agreement. I think the thought always was that it would be handled separately,” Portman said. “So I’m glad to hear my colleague, Dick Durbin, say that that’s not necessarily a sticking point in this, because I think there are different ways to look at it.”
“But, look, the key is that we not have another government shutdown, that we do keep the spending caps in place, that we don’t raise taxes at a time when the economy is still weak. And I think we can accomplish that over the next couple of days.”