WASHINGTON -- President Obama on Tuesday urged members of Congress to extend unemployment benefits for Americans who have been out of work for a long time, arguing that those unemployed are “not lazy” but victims of the country’s economic crisis.
Appearing in the East Room of the White House with more than a dozen unemployed people on risers behind him, Obama took issue with the argument that extending benefits will “somehow hurt the unemployed because it saps their motivation to get a new job.”
“That really sells the American people short,” Obama said. “I can’t name a time when I met an American who would rather have an unemployment check than the pride of having a job.”
“The long-term unemployed are not lazy,” he said. “They’re not lacking in motivation. They’re coping with the aftermath of the worst economic crisis in generations.”
The remarks came shortly after legislation to provide the unemployment benefits took a significant step forward in the Senate. Six Republicans joined Democrats in a vote allowing debate on the measure to begin.
Critics say Americans would be better off if the federal government took other actions to boost the economy, starting with changing or doing away with Obama’s signature healthcare law.
One top Republican said Tuesday that people don’t need “another call for a government fix.”
“Washington Democrats have shown almost no interest for five years in working together on ways to create the kind of good, stable, high-paying jobs that people really want and need,” added Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the chamber’s minority leader.
But the White House said the Obamacare argument is just a dodge from talking about the serious harm to families and children of the long-term unemployed.
Obama, back from two weeks on vacation, is trying to turn the argument to the plight of the unemployed and to the economic reasons for extending their benefits.
Some economists believe that extending emergency unemployment insurance helps the economy, administration officials say, because it allows the long-term unemployed to keep spending money.
The woman who introduced Obama at the Tuesday event, Katherine Hackett of Moodus, Conn., said she uses her benefits to cover her mortgage payment and healthcare while she continues to look for work.
The mother of two sons in the U.S. military, Hackett said she cuts corners to stay within her budget. She wears a jacket to stay warm inside and heats her house only to 58 degrees “because oil is expensive,” she told the audience.
Besides an economic incentive, Obama said, the nation has a moral reason to respond to the crisis of 1.3 million Americans who stand to benefit from the measure before the Senate.
“When we've got the mom of two of our troops who is working hard out there but is having to wear a coat inside the house, we’ve got a problem,” ” he said.
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