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Obama pushes unemployment benefits extension in weekly address, Tuesday speech

In his first weekly address of the New Year President Barack Obama focuses on his number one priority urging Congress to pass an extension of unemployment benefits for Americans out of work for more than 26 weeks. His address released Saturday morning, Jan. 4, 2014 is part of his push to convince Congress "reinstate" unemployment benefits after they failed to include an extension of the 2008 law in the bipartisan budget bill that passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate in December, which the President signed into law on Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013 while on vacation in Hawaii. The President will then deliver a speech on Tuesday, Jan. 7 at the White House also urging an extension of the benefits.

President Barack Obama dedicated his weekly address to urging Congress to extend unemployment benefits, Jan. 4, 2014; the President also give a speech on the issue Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at the White House
Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

The message in President Obama's weekly address entitled "Time to Pass Bipartisan Legislation to Extend Emergency Unemployment Insurance" was two-fold; to pass the unemployment benefits extension because it serves as "vital economic lifeline" to Americans that cannot find employment and it helps boost the economy, without the extension both American families and the economy will suffer.

Obama's argument for an extension was also both emotional, considering not passing the extension was a very "Scrooge" thing to do at Christmas, and tangible, tying the extension to economic growth. The President forever in attack mode could not help but criticize Congressional Republicans for not including the extension in the budget bill and letting the extension lapse past the bill's deadline.

Beginning his address the President delineated the situation; "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. 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."

The President chastised the Republicans calling it "cruel" that that they did not extend the benefits prior to the holiday season; "And denying families that security is just plain cruel. We're a better country than that. We don't abandon our fellow Americans when times get tough - we keep the faith with them until they start that new job."

Obama felt compelled not to argue the need for the extension by just tugging on Congress's heartstring, but also arguing logistically the extension is important for the health of the economy. The President explained; "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 Senate has a bipartisan plan which would extend unemployment benefits for another three months. Sens. Dean Heller, R-NV and Jack Reed, D-R.I. are the authors and sponsors of the extension plan; the Heller-Reed bill. The President is open even to the short-term plan and would sign such a bill if it passes the House and Senate. President Obama gave his approval to the plan in his address stating; "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."

When the Senate returns on Monday, Jan. 6, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV will put the extension bill to a test procedural vote, it needs 60 votes to pass. Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH would push for the bill if there was a source to pay for the extension, the Heller-Reed bill does not outline how the costly extension would be paid for, besides contributing further to the deficit.

President Obama continued his address pleading with Congress, zooming in especially on Republicans to make a bipartisan effort to pass the bill because it is what is best for the American public; "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."

The President concluded by giving his new year's resolution regarding his economic policy and advised Congressional Republicans to follow his example; "After all, our focus as a country this year shouldn't be shrinking our economy, but growing it; not narrowing opportunity, but expanding it; not fewer jobs, but doing everything we can to help our businesses create more of the good jobs that a growing middle class requires. That's my 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."

President Barack Obama also spent his holiday weekly address from Dec. 21, 2013 on the fact that Congressional Republicans chose not to extend the unemployment benefits and instead will leave 1.3 million "long-term jobless" Americans without that economic support when the benefits were going to expire on Dec. 28, 2013. If Congress does not extend the bill an additional 1.9 million Americans will lose benefits in the next few months.

During the 2008 recession the government enlarged the Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program to extend unemployment benefits beyond the 26 weeks that the states give. During the recession the "combined" state and federal benefits gave unemployed Americans 99 weeks of relief. The federal government provides "47 weeks" of extended benefits averaging "$300 a week."

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and recently released a report that contained conflicting conclusions about continuing the program. The positives in the report that President Obama and Congressional Democrats have focused on state that it would create 200,000 jobs this year and the GDP would grow by 0.2 percent.

However, the CBO report also states that the law cost $26 billion each year and the economic growth it provides does not cover its costs, and that in the long run it encouraged the unemployed to remain so as long as they have benefits. It is these negatives that the Republicans focus on, and was the reason it was not included in the budget bill, and why Republicans are opposed to extending a law that was meant to help in the worst of the recession, now with unemployment rates easing up they do not think it is as essential.

Reasserting the positive's of the CBO's report was a report by Congressional Democrats in the House Ways and Means Committee stating that the expired benefits are already costing the economy $400 million. President Barack Obama's Council on Economic Advisers and the Labor Department also released a report that concluded the benefit's extension would create 240,000 jobs.

The President intends to continue his push for the unemployment benefits extension in a speech he will give on Tuesday Jan. 7, 2014. The White House announced on Friday, Jan. 3 that Obama will give his speech in the White House's East Room, where he will be joined by Americans that have recently lost unemployment benefits because the extension was not passed and also those that have benefited from the extension.

This weekly address probably previews many elements President Obama will include in his speech as well as including a mix of personal stories of how the cutoff of benefits also cut off that economic "lifeline" for those that have been affected, and the success stories that the extension of benefits have led to finding jobs. The speech is meant to convince Congress to pass an extension.

President Obama left Hawaii after a two-week vacation on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014 and returned to Washington on Sunday, Jan. 5. The President did not just golf and enjoy the holidays in Hawaii; he was working behind the scenes to get this extension passed as soon as he and Congress returned. Obama phoned Sens. Heller, R-NV and Reed, D-R.I. to work on gaining bipartisan support for his first legislative priority of 2014.

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Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.