Senate vote on emergency jobless benefits bill moved to Tuesday

Jan. 6, 2014 at 6:51 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate Monday postponed a vote on extending emergency unemployment benefits to Tuesday as the long-term jobless face a tough labor market.

The United States can't turn its back on the long-term unemployed, the White House's top economic adviser said before the vote was postponed.

"We as a country have to be committed to doing everything we can to help those who are long-term unemployed [find] new jobs to support their families and get them back on their feet," Gene Sperling, National Economic Council director, told reporters Monday, while calling on the Senate to pass a bipartisan bill -- co-sponsored by Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Jack Reed, D-R.I. -- that would extend the emergency jobless benefits for three months.

Nevada and Rhode Island are tied with the nation's highest unemployment rate, 9 percent, the Labor Department said last week.

It takes an "attack on all fronts" to tackle long-term unemployment, Sperling said, including working with business executives and give the economic recovery more momentum and more job creation.

And, he said, "we have to give the basic support for those who are out there, who have worked in the past that are out there every day, working hard to find a new job," he said. "[We're] a country that has each other's back in hard times ... we have never, over the last half-century, cut off emergency unemployment benefits when long-term unemployment was even barely over half the rate that we have right now."

He said the bill will give Washington time to figure out the best way to address a longer-term solution for 2014 while helping the estimated 1.3 million people whose emergency unemployment benefits ran out at the end of 2013.

Sperling noted people are eligible for emergency unemployment benefits only if they are actively looking for work and benefits are designed to taper off as unemployment goes down.

"So this is not designed to go on forever," he said. "It is a temporary lifeline in difficult times that our country has relied on for well over a half-century."

President Obama wants a clean bill passed despite Republicans calling for a $6.5 billion offset for the three months, Sperling said.

He noted 14 of the last 17 times in 20 years that emergency benefits were extended, there were no strings attached, including five extensions under Republican President George W. Bush.

While saying the White House has been in contact with "many people," he didn't want to predict what the outcome would be.

The benefits, which expired Dec. 28, were not included in a two-year budget deal Congress reached before adjourning for the winter break.

Senate Democrats need at least four more Republican votes to advance a motion to proceed to the bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."

The vast majority of Americans, including Republican voters, support extending the benefits, Reid said, calling Republican lawmakers who don't support it "out of touch with what's going on in America today."

"Republicans around America want us to do something to extend these benefits," Reid said. "Why? Because it's good for the economy. It's good for the country."

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told ABC's "This Week" GOP lawmakers -- especially those with congressional races approaching at the end of the year -- should help restore unemployment benefits.

"If they don't, it's going to be an election [issue] in 2014," he said.

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