Year's First Partisan Showdown: Extending Jobless Benefits

WASHINGTON (CNN) - When they return to Washington on Monday, Democratic and Republican lawmakers will charge right into the first partisan showdown of the year: extending jobless benefits for 1.3 million long-term unemployed.

The message from the White House: Bring it on.

In his weekly address over the weekend, President Barack Obama blasted Republicans in Congress who "went home for the holidays and let that lifeline expire."

"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 in his address.

Benefits for the long-term unemployed expired late last month after members of Congress failed to continue a 2008 recession-era federal law providing nearly a year of benefits, paid for by U.S. taxpayers, that kicked in when state jobless benefits ran out.

Democrats insist the program is critical to help shore up struggling families and maintain the economic recovery. Republicans argue that the program -- which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will cost about $26 billion to continue for another year -- is costly and is a disincentive to looking for work.

Republicans also upped the ante over the weekend as several high-profile members of that party, including potential 2016 presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, doubled down in insisting that an extension of long-term unemployment benefits must include cuts elsewhere to offset the cost.

"I'm opposed to having it without paying for it," Paul said on ABC's "This Week." "I think it's wrong to borrow money from China or simply print up money for it."

House Speaker John Boehner will insist on such offsets before agreeing to an extension, a spokesman for the Republican leader told CNN.

"Republicans should make it their New Year's resolution to do the right thing, and restore this vital economic security for their constituents right now," Obama said on Saturday.

Obama plans to meet in the East Room this week with people who have lost their unemployment benefits.

Gene Sperling, director of the White House's National Economic Council, echoed the president's sentiments on Sunday and took Republicans to task for what he called the unprecedented step of nixing emergency benefits for the first time in the past 50 years.

"We have never cut off emergency unemployment benefits when the unemployment rate is this high," Sperling told CNN's Candy Crowley on "State of the Union." "(Monday) is actually the day that 1.3 million Americans will go to the mailbox and find that check missing, the check that they rely on to put food on their table."

During his weekly address, Obama also underscored that failing to pass an unemployment benefits extension could result in a drag on the economy.

"It actually slows down the economy for all of us. 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. And after our businesses created more than 2 million new jobs last year, that's a self-inflicted wound we don't need."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid railed against Republicans' insistence on offsets to the jobless benefits extension.

"We have never offset emergency spending. That's foolishness," Reid told CNN's Alison Harding.

Reid added that he's optimistic that he could gather the 60 votes needed to get past the first procedural hurdle. However, conservative groups are urging Republicans to hold firm.

The conservative Club for Growth urged all senators to vote "no" on a proposal to extend unemployment benefits and cited the lack of spending offsets.

"Congress should end the federal unemployment insurance program and return the authority back to the states, which already have programs in place," read a statement from the organization. "Absent this, Congress should pay for this extension by cutting spending elsewhere in the budget. After six years, an extension can no longer be called an 'emergency' with any credibility. There is plenty of waste in the federal budget from which to find an offset."

The Senate plans to take up the measure Monday evening.


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