WAIMANALO, Hawaii -- With unemployment benefits set to expire Saturday for about 1.3 million Americans, President
on Friday pressed for
to act, calling two senators who have offered legislation that would extend them for three months.
The president made the calls from his vacation home on Oahu to Sen.
One week ago, during his final news conference of the year at the White House, Obama applauded the rebounding economy but faulted Congress for inaction on unemployment insurance, charging that by not extending jobless benefits it was leaving a million constituents without "a vital economic lifeline at Christmastime."
"We're a better country than that. We don't abandon each other when times are tough," Obama told reporters. He said the benefits go only to Americans "who are actively looking for work -- a mom who needs help feeding her kids when she sends out her resumes, or a dad who needs help paying the rent while working part-time and still learning the skills he needs for that new job."
He called on members of Congress to make the temporary extension of benefits "their first order of business" when they come back into session next year, saying that if lawmakers approve it, he would sign the Reed-Heller proposal "right away."
On Saturday, Americans who have been out of work and collecting unemployment benefits for more than 26 weeks will stop receiving the federal-state assistance. The length of time that Americans can receive the aid varies from state to state — at the peak of the recession some Californians were eligible for up to 99 weeks of benefits — but bipartisan support for the extensions has diminished as the economy has improved. (Congress has approved extensions of unemployment benefits 11 times since the summer of 2008).
"There was a study that came out a few months ago, and it said, if you have a worker that's been unemployed for four weeks and on unemployment insurance and one that's on 99 weeks, which would you hire?" Paul said on “
Expanding his remarks during an interview with NBC News, Paul argued that the longer workers are unemployed, "the less likely they are to ever get a job again."
Democrats are eager to debate that view. California Gov.
"Neglecting to extend this vital lifeline to millions of workers is simply immoral -- an abdication of our obligation to do what we can to support those who worked hard, played by the rules, and lost their jobs through no fault of their own," Pelosi said. "For the Americans affected by this Republican inaction, there's no time to waste. The first item on Congress' agenda in the New Year must be an extension of unemployment insurance."
Despite improving economic news, 70% of Americans in a CNN/ORC poll released this week said the economy was in "poor shape" and half expected it to remain that way well into next year.