WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Barack Obama Tuesday amplified his calls for extending emergency unemployment benefits for millions of Americans, saying that passing the measure should be Congress’ “first order of business in 2014.”
The President made his comments less than an hour after a bill that would provide benefits to 1.3 million Americans for three months cleared its first hurdle in the Senate.
Speaking at an event at the White House flanked by people whose benefits expired at the end of last year, Obama called on Congress to pass the jobless aid extension, saying a failure to re-up the benefits would hurt the entire economy.
“Congress should pass this bipartisan plan right away, and I will sign it right away,” the President added.
“We’ve got to make sure that this recovery leaves nobody behind,” said Obama, who called unemployment insurance “a vital economic lifeline” for many.
The President spoke shortly after a $6.4 billion plan to extend unemployment insurance benefits to eligible workers for another three months cleared a key hurdle in the Senate, in a 60-37 vote. Six Republican senators voted with the Democrats. Obama called the Senate vote “good news” and a “step in the right direction.”
Obama, along with other White House officials, have called on Congress to pass the extension since late last year, when a renewal of the benefits was omitted from a bipartisan budget deal. Obama, who initially called on the unemployment benefits to be included in the budget deal, signed the final agreement in December.
In previewing the event, the White House pointed to a history of easy renewals for emergency unemployment in Congress. The jobless assistance has been renewed each year since 2008.
In his comments, the President argued that “the long term unemployed are not lazy” and that “they desperately want work.”
Many Republicans argue the benefits act as a disincentive for out of work Americans to look for jobs, and say the $6.4 billion price tag is bad for the economy. They say the cost must be offset by spending cuts in other parts of the budget — a suggestion the White House rejected on Monday.
In a statement after the Senate vote, House Speaker John Boehner pushed back against the White House, saying that, “One month ago I personally told the White House that another extension of temporary emergency unemployment benefits should not only be paid for but include something to help put people back to work. To date, the president has offered no such plan.”