Carney: Administration 'absolutely expects' Congress to extend jobless aid

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday the administration "absolutely expects" Congress to take up an extension of unemployment benefits upon returning from the holiday, after leaders on Capitol Hill signaled they would not address the issue before the winter recess.

"Unfortunately, the House is leaving tomorrow — they've made clear that they go on recess for the holiday tomorrow," Carney said. "And if Congress does not act in time before those benefits expire, we would absolutely expect them to act as soon as possible upon their return."

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On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that his chamber wouldn't vote on extending the benefits before the program expires on Dec. 28.

"We’re going to push for an extension for unemployment insurance when the Senate returns here next year,” Reid said on the Senate floor.

Reid blamed Senate Republicans, who refused to yield back time during the debate on the nomination of Nina Pillard to the D.C. Circuit Court, for pushing back votes on the legislative agenda. Republicans were protesting Democrats' rule change abolishing the filibuster on presidential nominations below the Supreme Court level.

In the House, leaders have signaled they are unlikely to act on the unemployment insurance legislation before leaving at the end of the week for recess.

Carney refused to concede that Congress was unable to act, saying "there is still time for the House to change its mind" about leaving.

"If it was the right thing to do when President George W. Bush did it, extended unemployment insurance benefits at a time when the unemployment rate was 5.6 percent, and at a time when the average unemployed person was unemployed for 17 weeks, then it's the right thing to do today, as it has been over the past several years since the Great Recession occurred," Carney said.

On Wednesday, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he had told White House chief of staff Denis McDonough that he would entertain extending the benefits if the president presented a plan that met certain standards.

“When the White House finally called me last Friday about extending unemployment benefits, I said we would clearly consider it, as long as it’s paid for, and as long as there are other efforts to help get our economy moving once again," Boehner said. "I have not seen a plan from the White House that meets those standards.”

Carney defended the White House not insisting that the extension be included in the bipartisan budget deal announced earlier this week.

"We don't believe that it has to be attached to anything," Carney said.

He added that the White House would continue to lobby congressional leaders about the issue.

"We will continue to work with Congress and press upon Congress our view," Carney said.

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