WASHINGTON, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama said Saturday Congress' "first order of business" when it returns from recess should be to extend long-term unemployment insurance.
In his weekly radio and Internet address, the president accused congressional Republicans of allowing "a vital lifeline" for more than a million long-term unemployed people to expire a few days after Christmas.
He said the extended benefits allow the United States to "keep faith" with the long-term unemployed until they find work -- and allowing the benefits to expire will have a negative effect on the economy overall.
"If folks can't pay their bills or buy the basics, like food and clothes, local businesses take a hit and hire fewer workers," he said. "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."
Obama said congressional Republicans and Democrats "put partisanship and ideology aside" in the past to extend unemployment insurance, even in times when the unemployment rate was lower than it is now.
"So when Congress comes back to work this week, their first order of business should be making this right," the president said. "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."
The country should focus on "growing the economy, expanding opportunity and doing everything we can to help our businesses create more of the good jobs that a growing middle class requires," he said.
"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," Obama said.