President Barack Obama lauded the Senate’s advancement of a bill to extend jobless aid on Tuesday as a “very important step” and called on Republicans in both chambers to back the legislation “without obstruction or delay.”
"Voting for unemployment insurance helps people and creates jobs and voting against it does not," Obama said in remarks at the White House.
"We have got to get this across the finish line without obstruction or delay and we need the House of Representatives to be able to vote for it as well," he said. "That’s the bottom line."
Obama’s remarks came shortly after the Senate voted 60-37 to begin formal debate on the unemployment insurance extension, which would offer a three-month extension of the long-term aid to 1.3 million Americans. Those benefits halted on December 28 when Congress failed to reach a deal to continue the program.
In his first public appearance since returning from a two-week vacation, Obama excoriated the argument -- put forward by some conservatives -- that offering insurance to the long-term unemployed "saps their motivation to get a new job."
"That really sells the American people short," he said.
Making both an economic argument and a "moral case" for extending the benefits, Obama said Americans believe in helping each other in the case of misfortune.
"We know that, there but for the grace of God, go I," he said.
The congressional fight is far from over. Although six Republicans joined all present Democrats to advance the bill in the Senate, many lawmakers say they want the $6.4 billion cost to be offset by spending cuts – an idea that the White House previously rejected.
And House Republican leaders say the current Senate proposal is not enough.
In a statement after the Senate vote, House Speaker John Boehner said the aid extension must be paid for and contain a larger plan for job creation.
"One month ago I personally told the White House that another extension of temporary emergency unemployment benefits should not only be paid for but include something to help put people back to work," he said. "To date, the president has offered no such plan."