Less than an hour after the surprise vote ending a Republican filibuster blocking unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed, President Obama on Tuesday made his case for why Congress should pass the final bill.
Surrounded by those who rely on long-term unemployment benefits, Obama spoke from the White House to argue that an extension of those benefits was urgently needed. "We've got to make sure this recovery leaves nobody behind."
He was introduced by Katherine Hackett, a woman who has, Obama said, applied for every job for which she is qualified. "I challenge any lawmaker to live without an income," she said in the letter to the president that prompted his invitation to her to attend the speech. In introducing Obama, Hackett described the effects of her unemployment, including wearing extra clothes so she could keep heating bills low. "I am not just sitting at home enjoying the good life," she said. Most evocatively: "I have lost weight, because food is expensive."
Obama made the point that her story wasn't unique.
This is not an abstraction. These are not statistics. This could at some time be any of us. That's why we set up unemployment insurance. The idea is that everyone makes a contribution because we don't know when … the business cycle could make any of us vulnerable.
He also challenged the claim made by opponents of extending the benefits that it was an impetus for people not to seek work.
I want to go at this for a second. That really sells the American people short. I meet a lot of people. I can't name a time when I met an American who would rather have an unemployment check than the pride of having a job.
Existing benefits expired in December, meaning an end to payments for an estimated 1.3 million people. CNN Money reports that the end of the benefits will reduce economic productivity by 0.2 percent and could cost another 200,000 jobs by the end of the year as the result of decreased spending.
Tuesday morning's Senate vote — originally scheduled for Monday night but postponed after bad weather delayed several senators' flights — fell largely along party lines but, surprisingly, kept an extension alive in the Senate. The proposal was co-sponsored by Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican, and Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, a Democrat, and would renew for an additional three months unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, retroactive to the December cancellation.
Obama has pushed strongly for a renewal, including in his weekly address last Saturday. "They're not looking for pity," he said on Tuesday, "they're just looking for a shot." At this point, though, it is unlikely that the bill will make much progress in the House. Speaker John Boehner has repeatedly called for spending cuts equivalent to the costs. In a statement on Tuesday morning, Boehner again argued against a flat extension, suggesting it needs to be both paid for and coupled with a Republican-approved jobs package.
The Senate vote to end a Republican-led filibuster passed 60 to 37. This isn't final; it only allows the bill to move forward. But even that seemed unlikely as recently as Tuesday morning. Among the Republicans voting against their colleagues on cloture were Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Dan Coats of Indiana.
Oh MT @kasie: Sen. McCain a "no" on cloture on UI. Says process is "dictatorial.” What happens next? "You'll have to ask the dictator."— Molly Ball (@mollyesque) January 7, 2014