U.S. President Barack Obama motions for the audience to sit as he is introduced by Katherine Hackett of Moodus, Connecticut, at an event to highlight unemployment insurance benefits in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on January 7, 2014. The Senate voted to begin debate on extending unemployment benefits to those out of work. .UPI/Pat Benic | License Photo
WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday he's open to finding budget cuts to pay for extending unemployment benefits.
Republicans, who have been demanding an offset, praised Reid's remarks as a significant development, but Reid said it will be hard to find offsetting cuts that satisfy both parties, the Hill reported.
Reid, D-Nev., told reporters that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell "says he wants to pay for extending for these unemployment benefits ... by whacking Obamacare. That's a non-starter. If they come with something that's serious, I'll talk to them," the Hill reported.
"But right now they should understand the low-hanging fruit is gone. We've scavenged every place we can go," he added.
White House chief of staff Denis McDonough will review possible offset cuts, Reid said, but stressed Republicans should find a pay-for.
Jobless benefits are sometimes the only income for long-term unemployed as they look for work and should be temporarily extended, U.S. President Obama said after the Senate voted 60-37 to end debate on extending emergency unemployment insurance benefits by three months. Six Republicans joined Democrats in allowing the bill to proceed.
"Unemployment insurance is a vital economic lifeline" for the long-term unemployed, Obama said.
When Congress left Washington for its Christmas break, they "let this lifeline expire for 1.3 million Americans. If doesn't get fixed, 14 million Americans [will be affected] over course of year," Obama said, explaining that the 14 million figure encompasses 5 million workers plus their families.
"These are not folks sitting back waiting for things to happen," Obama said. "They desperately want work" but are still struggling because of the depth of the financial crisis.
"We make this promise to our fellow Americans working hard to get back on their feet ... that we're not going to say you're on your own," Obama said.
From an economic perspective, independent economists said extending unemployment insurance helps the economy and creates jobs, Obama said.
When unemployment insurance extensions were approved previously, Congress put aside partisanship and ideology to pass the measures with no strings attached, he said.
He then commented on some Republicans saying that unemployment benefits "will somehow hurt 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 ... I met [an] American who would rather have an unemployment check" instead of having a job. "The long-term unemployed are not lazy. They're not lacking in motivation."
During floor debate, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called such remarks "balderdash."
"Letting the unemployment insurance expire is wrong. Congress should make this right," Obama said.
"So we've got to get this across the finish line without obstruction or delay, and we need the House of Representatives to be able to vote for it, as well," Obama said. "That's the bottom line."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said Republicans want the Senate bill's $6.4 billion price tag offset by cuts elsewhere.
In a statement posted on his website, Boehner said Obama's statement Tuesday "is a tacit admission on the part of the White House that the president hasn't done enough to help more Americans get back on their feet, and back to work."
"If the president is serious about helping middle class families, he should follow the House's lead and focus on helping the private-sector grow and create jobs," Boehner said, listing three starting points, including giving all Americans a hardship exemption from the individual mandate included in the Affordable Care Act, approve the Keystone pipeline and cut regulations Boehner and Republicans say are hurting the U.S. energy sector.
During debate on the bill co-sponsored by Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., Reid said the benefits "make difference to live a decent life ... or going hungry and becoming homeless."
McConnell accused the Democrats of using the expiration of emergency unemployment benefits at the end of 2013 for political purposes, and used his time to advocate the delay of the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Democrats speaking before the cloture vote noted extending unemployment insurance benefits has always been a bipartisan effort and never had offset strings attached. McConnell was the only Republican who spoke.
"The bottom line is very simple: People want to work," Schumer said. "People who have lost their jobs are knocking on doors every day. ... They're desperate for work."
The Senate originally scheduled a vote for Monday, but delayed it after at least 17 senators were absent because of the frigid weather gripping the country.