Obama Slams GOP Over Jobless Benefits

The president wants Congress to make restoring the benefits the first order of business in 2014.

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President Obama has fired his first warning shot of the new year against Republicans, attacking the GOP for opposing an extension of long-term unemployment benefits. It's an issue that Democrats hope will help them win congressional seats in the mid-term elections this November and do lasting damage to the GOP.

"Instead of punishing families who can least afford it," Obama said, "Republicans should make it their new year's resolution to do the right thing and restore the vital economic security for their constituents right now."

In a weekend address to the nation, the president also said members of Congress should make restoring unemployment benefits for 1.3 million long-term unemployed Americans their "first order of business" for 2014. Obama said some parents need the payments to feed their children while they look for work, "and denying families that security is just plain cruel."

Republican leaders in the GOP-controlled House say they will consider the extension of unemployment benefits if the lost revenue, estimated at $6.5 billion for a three-month extension, can be offset with spending cuts elsewhere in the federal budget. Top leaders in the Democratic controlled Senate plan to push for an immediate vote on the extension as soon as today.

[OPINION: Can Congress Pass an Unemployment Insurance Extension?]

An extended program for unemployed Americans expired in December after Congress was unable to agree before the holidays on a way to continue the benefits. Obama says he will immediately sign a bill extending the benefits for three months if such legislation clears Congress.

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  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and on Facebook and Twitter.