As President Barack Obama's vacation with his family in the warm sun of Hawaii comes to an end, he is heading back to Washington today, getting back to work in a new year. Obama is fresh off a bipartisan victory on a passage of a budget and buoyed by the positive numbers of enrollees for Obamacare.
Obama is taking up his next fight, the extension of Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC). Obama used his weekly address to highlight the issue.
The EUC program was created by Congress under the Bush administration on June 30, 2008, and has been modified several times. Most recently it was modified under a budget deal, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, and that deal extended the expiration date of the EUC program to January 1, 2014.
President Obama said in his weekly address that Congress should act to extend emergency unemployment insurance for more than one million Americans who have lost this vital economic "lifeline" while looking for a job.
With an emphasis on the "lifeline" that has been taken away from 1.3 million Americans, Obama said: "Just a few days after Christmas, more than one million of our fellow Americans lost a vital economic lifeline — the temporary insurance that helps folks make ends meet while they look for a job.
Obama scolded the Republicans in Congress who "went home for the holidays and let that lifeline expire. And for many of their constituents who are unemployed through no fault of their own, that decision will leave them with no income at all. "
Obama called the inaction by Congress "just plain cruel."
Emphasizing the negative effects on inaction, Obama said, "It actually slows down the economy for all of us. If folks can’t pay their bills or buy the basics, like food and clothes, local businesses take a hit and hire fewer workers. That’s why the independent Congressional Budget Office says that unless Congress restores this insurance, we’ll feel a drag on our economic growth this year."
The year was a good one increasing new jobs and Obama fears this could send the job market backward. "And after our businesses created more than two million new jobs last year, that’s a self-inflicted wound we don’t need."
Obama asked that, "When Congress comes back to work this week, their first order of business should be making this right. Right now, a bipartisan group in Congress is working on a three-month extension of unemployment insurance — and if they pass it, I will sign it."
In the past both sides supported these measures. "For decades, Republicans and Democrats put partisanship and ideology aside to offer some security for job-seekers, even when the unemployment rate was lower than it is today. Instead of punishing families who can least afford it, Republicans should make it their New Year’s resolution to do the right thing, and restore this vital economic security for their constituents right now."
Obama revealed own New Year’s resolution: “To do everything I can, every single day, to help make 2014 a year in which more of our citizens can earn their own piece of the American Dream.
"After five years of working and sacrificing to recover and rebuild from crisis, we have it within our power, right now, to move this country forward. It’s entirely up to us. And I’m optimistic for the year that lies ahead."
Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and Council of Economic Advisers member Betsey Stevenson held a conference call Friday with regional White House reporters to discuss the economic benefits of extending emergency unemployment insurance through 2014.
They also used the word "lifeline" over and over again, calling the EUC a "Vital lifeline for millions of Americans who depend on these benefits while fighting to find a job." They urged for the passage of the "The bipartisan Reed-Heller bill would provide benefits for over 2 million Americans when they need it most."
The New York Times said that some Republicans, including Speaker of Ohio, are open to extending the EUC, as long as the cost can be offset elsewhere. The Republican claim is that Democrats did not offer such a plan before leaving town last month.
On New Year's Day, the White House dispatched Gene Sperling, Director of the National Economic Council to help make the case. Sperling said, "There is likely less joy and more fear and distress in the homes of 1.3 million Americans who this week have seen their unemployment insurance suddenly cut off — a vital lifeline that these Americans depend on as they fight to find a job."
Sperling said that there would be no better "New Year’s resolution for Congress to make today than to commit to making the first new legislation for the new year the restoration of emergency unemployment insurance for those who have this week just been cut off."
Sperling added that the impact of "failing to extend emergency unemployment insurance through 2014 will negatively impact 14 million Americans — the 4.9 million workers who will see unemployment insurance cut off and the approximately 9 million additional family members they are supporting."
Three is also an upside to the extension: "It is estimated to lead to 200,000 jobs and a fifth of a point of additional economic growth."
The President strongly supports Majority Leader’s commitment to bring the bipartisan Reed-Heller bill for a vote the very first day the Senate returns on Jan. 6. By temporarily extending emergency unemployment insurance for three months, this bipartisan bill will provide benefits for more than 2 million Americans when they need it most, and we urge every member of Congress to support this vitally important bill.
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