President Barack Obama is set to deliver a speech about the economy at North Carolina State University on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The President plans again to push Republicans in Congress to pass an unemployment benefits extension for the "long-term jobless." Obama's speech comes as the Senate is facing a difficult time getting a bill passed, because Republicans want the cost of the bill offset by spending cuts.
President Obama has made the economy the central focus of his attention since the New Year turned with his first weekly address of the year convincing Congress to extend of unemployment benefits, followed by a speech at the White House on Tuesday, Jan. 7 urging the extension and then the announcement of the Promise Zones Initiative in five locations with heavy poverty on Thursday Jan. 9, 2014.
This past Saturday, Jan. 11, President Obama dedicated his weekly address entitled "Ensuring 2014 is a Year of Action to Grow the Economy" to the economy and again urging Congress to pass the unemployment benefits extension, stating "This will be a year of action." In the address the President laid out his economic legislative priorities that will most probably be included in his NC speech; increasing the minimum wage, manufacturing jobs, education through job and skills training, and job creation.
However, President Obama said the most important economic priority is getting Congress to extend those unemployment benefits; "And that action should begin by extending unemployment insurance for Americans who were laid off in the recession through no fault of their own. This vital economic lifeline helps people support their families while they look for a new job."
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 approves of the short-term plan and would sign such a bill if it passes the House and Senate. The Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act will cost $6.5 billion, but Heller and Reed did not outline how the costly extension would be paid for, besides contributing further to the deficit. On Dec. 28, 2013 1.3 million Americans lost access to benefits, and each week about 70,000 Americans will lose benefits.
During the 2008 recession when Republican George W. Bush was President 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 Heller-Reed extension bill has stalled in the Senate after it passed its first protocol vote on Tuesday, Jan. 7 which moved it beyond the cloture stage. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid postponed the Senate vote on the issue on Monday, Jan. 13 when both Democrats and Republicans were unable to come to an agreement on paying for the costly bill. Republicans have objected primarily to extending the benefits based on the extension's price tag with the Democrats not balancing it out with spending cuts, and because they believe it does not motivate the unemployed to find a job as long as they have access to benefits.
Late Monday evening Jan. 13, nine moderate Senate Republicans broke from party ranks and proposed a three months extension only, with spending cuts to cover the costs. Democrats are still not pleased, since they had hoped to extend the benefits beyond close to a year or the 10-month extension they proposed on Thursday, Jan. 9, but cost $18 billion and was not received well by Republicans. A Senate vote is set for Tuesday, Jan. 14, and if it passes will face greater resistance in the Republican controlled House of Representatives. This deal comes as the House and Senate also agreed on Monday evening to a $1.012 trillion "omnibus" spending bill that will fund the government until Sept. 30 and will avert a government shutdown.
A disappointing December jobs report released on Friday, Jan. 10, 2013 showing that even if the unemployment rate went down to 6.7 percent the "lowest since October 2008," there were a smaller number of jobs added last month with only 74,000; making unemployment benefits extension of even greater importance.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney first announced that Obama will be giving the speech in North Carolina at the Thursday, Jan. 9, daily press briefing. Later on Saturday, Jan. 11 the White House expanded on the speech's details, including the university location. NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson speaking about the President's speech said that; "We are honored to welcome President Obama and look forward to demonstrating how NC State is a pre-eminent research enterprise that excels in driving economic growth and educating the workforce of the future." At the same time students were running and waiting in lines on Monday, Jan. 13 to get tickets to be in the audience during the President's speech.
The unemployment situation is especially dire in North Carolina where the Republican state House of Representatives limited the state unemployment benefits to only 20 weeks, which made 170,000 unemployed North Carolinians ineligible for the additional federal benefits, and would remain so even if Congress would pass an extension. The first term Democratic Senate Kay Hagan has "secured" a deal with the White House guaranteeing if there is an extension North Carolina's unemployed would be receive the benefits.
Hagan's polls numbers dropped from the disastrous health care law, Affordable Care Act rollout, and she is locked in a tough re-election campaign with the Republican primary front-runner "North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis," the architect of the shrinking benefits. As a result Hagan has distanced herself from Obama, and especially caused a stir when her office announced she would not be present at the President's speech, claiming it is because the Senate is session.
All these events lead up to President Obama's State of the Union Address on Tuesday, Jan. 28, where as Obama promised in his weekly address he "will mobilize the country around the national mission of making sure our economy offers everyone who works hard a fair shot at opportunity and success."
- President Barack Obama's Weekly Address: Ensuring 2014 is a Year of Action to Grow the Economy, Jan. 11, 2014 -- Transcript | Download mp4 | Download mp3
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.