White House urges Congress to approve jobless aid

The White House on Monday urged Congress to pass an extension of emergency unemployment benefits ahead of a scheduled procedural vote in the Senate.

“The president believes we should pass this right away, with no strings attached,” said White House economic adviser Gene Sperling. “That is more in line with precedent than anything else.”

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Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) have proposed a three-month extension of the program, which helps unemployed workers who have exhausted their state benefits. The bill would cost about $6.4 billion for the next three months. 

The senators have said the legislation would provide lawmakers a window to negotiate a full-year extension, expected to cost roughly $25 billion.

Some Republicans have balked at the cost, saying that they will only agree to extend the program if it is offset with other spending cuts. On Monday, the Club for Growth urged senators to vote against the measure unless it was paid for with offsets.

At the White House on Monday, Sperling argued that the benefits first signed into law by former President George W. Bush had previously been extended without being paid for.

“We have just an urgent situation right now,” he added.

The benefits expired last month, and Sperling said 1.3 million people who previously would have received the help will not get a check on Monday.

President Obama will hold an event on the issue Tuesday as part of a broader administration effort to ratchet up pressure on Congress.

Sperling defended the White House from criticism that it did not do enough to get the benefits included in a two-year budget deal approved last month.

He said Obama publicly called for an extension seven times in 18 days, and had since been working the phones with lawmakers.

Sperling said he did not know whether the Senate had the 60 votes necessary to move forward with the procedural motion.

“I don't know. I'm not here to predict. I'm here to tell you it should pass,” he said.