The White House sent its top economic adviser to argue for the extension of benefits for the unemployed on Sunday, with Congress looking poised to take up the issue as early as tomorrow.
Gene Sperling, the director of the White House National Economic Council, said on CNN’s State of the Union that the unemployment rate is still far too high to justify ending benefits, and that a lack of action would be “cruel.”
On Saturday, President Obama also once again focused his Weekly Address on the issue. Unemployment benefits expired for 1.3 million people at the end of December. “When Congress comes back to work this week, their first order of business should be making this right,” Obama said. “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.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pledged Thursday to bring a bill to extend unemployment insurance to the floor this week. The bill, which would extend benefits for three months, was drafted by Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Jack Reed, D-R.I.
Despite the Senate’s efforts, relief for the 1.9 million people set to lose benefits in the first half of 2014 is far from guaranteed. House Republicans are still opposed to an extension, and a memo on the House’s legislative agenda sent Friday by Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor did not include the issue.
Speaking on CBS’ Face the Nation Sunday, Reid said that he believes he can collect the necessary number of votes to pass the bill.
“There’s 55 of us, and there’s 45 of them,” Reid said. “It would seem to me that five Republicans in the Senate should agree with the Republicans around the country. Republicans around America want us to do something to extend these benefits. Why? Because it’s good for the economy. It’s good for the country.”
Not all Republicans are avoiding a discussion of the unemployment problem. On State of the Union, Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said he wants to tie unemployment benefits to a job training requirement, and that the system should be reformed.
“Whether it’s unemployment compensation or food stamps, we should require job training so that if a job becomes available, they’ve got their gear ready to get in the game,” he said.
New York Congressman Peter King said his Republican colleagues in the House need to be willing to extend unemployment benefits in exchange for further concessions from Democrats.
“I would like to find a way to get a compromise to extend unemployment insurance, at least for a brief period of time, but at the same time, the Democrats should make compromises,” King said on Face The Nation.