WASHINGTON -- President Obama said Wednesday that Congress should reauthorize extended unemployment insurance for the long-term jobless.
"I think it makes sense for us to extend unemployment insurance because there's still a lot of folks out there hurting," Obama said during a press conference following a Democratic wipeout in the midterm elections on Tuesday.
Federally-funded extended benefits, which in some states give the unemployed 73 weeks of aid on top of the 26 weeks traditionally provided by state governments, will expire at the end of November if Congress takes no action. That means the House and Senate will have less than two weeks from when they reconvene on Nov. 15 to reach an agreement that took nearly two months this summer.
Obama said extending the benefits would be among the things "that we can do right now that will help sustain the recovery and advance it, even as we're sitting down and figuring out, okay, over the next several years, what kind of a budget cut can we make that are intelligent, smart, and won't be undermining our recovery and won't be encouraging job growth."
Congressional Republicans stood in near-unanimous opposition to reauthorizing the jobless aid this summer, citing the deficit impact of the benefits. Congress routinely provides the long-term unemployed with extra weeks of unemployment insurance during times of recession and usually the deficit impact of the spending is not offset with spending cuts as Republicans have demanded this year.
Obama said extending the benefits was important for the same reason as reauthorizing the Bush-era tax cuts that will expire in December. "Not only is it the right thing to do for folks who are still looking for work and struggling in this tough economy, but it's the right thing to do for the economy as a whole."
Economists say unemployment insurance is among the most economically stimulative fiscal policies, since layoff victims tend to spend their benefits immediately on things like rent and food.
Obama said he would sit down with congressional leaders in the coming weeks to figure out a way forward. "How that negotiation works itself out, I think, is too early to say."
The White House largely stayed on the sidelines as Senate Democrats struggled for 50 days to overcome a Republican filibuster this summer. During the GOP's blockade, extended benefits lapsed, briefly severing a lifeline to 2.5 million people.
If Congress fails to reauthorize the jobless aid, the National Employment Law Project estimates that two million people will prematurely stop receiving benefits by the end of December.