Obama calls senators to push for jobless aid

 

President Obama on Friday placed phone calls to the two senators pressing for an extension of federal unemployment benefits as the White House and Democrats sought to raise pressure on congressional Republicans.

Obama placed separate calls to Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) to offer his support for their proposal to extend the federal benefits for three months, according to the White House.

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The benefits are set to expire Saturday. They kick in after state benefits expire, and are used by long-term unemployed people.

Obama told the senators that he was pleased they were working "in a bipartisan fashion" to address the problem, which he said would hurt the economy and job creation. He also said the administration would press Congress to extend the benefits.

Obama's calls are part of a coordinated effort by Democrats.

Gene Sperling, the director of the National Economic Council, said on Friday that allowing the benefits to expire  for 1.3 million Americans "defies economic sense, precedent and our values."

Separately, Democrats in e-mails to reporters and on social media called for an extension and said Republicans would be to blame for the benefits' lapse. 

The extension was not included in a two-year budget deal approved this month despite calls to do so by Democrats. Republicans had balked at the price of the extension, and what they said was Democrats' insistence that it not be offset with other spending cuts. 

Sperling said the absence of the money would be "a blow," especially amid the holiday season.

"These are our neighbors, our community members and often fellow parents who depend on this as a temporary lifeline while they are actively looking for new jobs to support their families and make ends meet," Sperling said in a statement released by the White House.

"Never before have we abruptly cut off emergency unemployment insurance when we faced this level of long-term unemployment and it would be a blow to these families and our economy."  

Sperling urged lawmakers to take up the Reed-Heller bill, which the administration says would allow lawmakers to consider a longer extension. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he would bring the legislation to a vote when Congress returns. 

"The president strongly encourages both the Democratic and Republican Congressional leadership and their members to support this bipartisan solution and to pass the Reed-Heller bill," Sperling said. 

This story was posted at 3:49 p.m. and updated at 6:14 p.m.