Director of the National Economic Council Gene Sperling speaks to the media during a news briefing at the White House, January 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. Sperling spoke about issues related to the U.S. economy. / Mark Wilson Getty Images
WASHINGTON - With an effort in the Senate to extend federal unemployment insurance facing tough odds, the White House on Monday made one last push before the upper chamber is set to hold a key procedural vote Tuesday on a bill to restore benefits for nearly 1.3 million Americans.
Benefits expired for many long-term unemployed Americans on Dec. 28 after lawmakers did not extend the program as part of a bipartisan budget agreement. But the Senate is set to consider a bill sponsored by Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., on Tuesday that would restore benefits for eligible workers for another three months.
Republicans have balked at extending unemployment benefits without offsetting the roughly $6.5 billion that it will cost.
The White House counters that Congress has extended emergency unemployment insurance time-after-time with no strings attached during periods of high unemployment. The current U.S. unemployment rate stands at 7%.
"We have just an urgent situation right now," National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling told reporters. "Fourteen of the last 17 times in the last 20 years that it's been extended, there's been no strings attached. All five times that the previous president (George W.) Bush extended emergency unemployment benefits, there were no pay-fors or strings attached and the unemployment rate was lower in each of those five times than it is today."
But President Obama, who has called extending unemployment benefits his first priority of the New Year, will need plenty of help from Republicans today if the Reed-Heller proposal has any chance to garnering the 60 votes to survive a GOP filibuster.
Right now, Heller-whose home state's unemployment rate stands at 9% and long-term unemployment rate at 3.9%--is the only Republican that has come out in favor of the bill.
Several Republican senators in states with high unemployment rates have already said they won't vote for an extension without offsetting spending cuts. But at least four other Republicans in states with high unemployment rates - Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, John McCain of Arizona, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Pat Toomey - have publicly remained uncommitted on the Reed-Heller proposal. (The vote was originally scheduled for Monday evening, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced a postponement of the vote late in the day.)
Even if the bill passes the Senate, it faces stiffer resistance in the GOP-controlled House.
For his part, Obama will continue his press with a White House event on Tuesday, where he'll be surrounded by some of the Americans who saw their benefits expire before the New Year.
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