White House blows up unemployment compromise

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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White House officials Monday tried to blow up a nascent political compromise over a one-year, $25 billion extension of unemployment insurance.

The dramatic move came only a few hours before a close Senate vote, and amid a White House strategy to divert media and public attention from the imploding Obamacare program.

“We have an emergency right now. … The president believes we should pass this right away, no strings attached,” White House economic chief Gene Sperling said, while rejecting GOP calls for a compromise over the extension of unemployment benefits for people who have been unemployed for more than six months in Obama’s economy. (ANALYSIS: Obama’s 2014 strategy — my economy sucks)

GOP leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner, have repeatedly said they’d be willing to extend unemployment benefits if Democrats identified offsetting budget cuts or economy-boosting regulatory changes. GOP leaders want to minimize other political battles to focus voters’ attention on the Obamacare crash.

Sperling also tried to torpedo talk of a one-year compromise, and instead called for a three-month deal that would deliver another high-profile fight in early April, when Obamacare’s problems are expected to become even more dramatic.

Obamacare’s failure has deeply damaged Obama’s poll ratings, and may prompt voters in November to elect a GOP majority in the Senate.

Sperling also suggested that a single U.S. senator’s cooperation with Democratic leaders counts as a bipartisan compromise.

Congress should immediately pass legislation drafted by Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and freshman Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, Sperling said. “The compromise that is inherent in the Heller/Reed legislation is ‘Let’s move quickly and pass this three-month legislation now,'” Sperling said.

The Senate is expected to vote on the Heller/Reed legislation at late Monday afternoon. The vote is expected to be close, and Sperling’s very confrontational rejection of a long-term deal may cause its defeat.

In December, Obama repeatedly called for an extension of unemployment insurance, but did not move to block a bipartisan budget deal that contained no extra unemployment funds.

Since late December, roughly 1.3 million people have run out of unemployment benefits. Nationally, roughly 20 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed.

Throughout the press conference, Sperling’s confrontational stance was backed by White House spokesman Jay Carney. “We hope Congress will take action right away,” Carney said.

Carney invited Sperling to talk about the unemployment fight during the regular press briefing. Sperling’s talk took up time and minimized reporters’ questions about Obamacare.

Sperling is due to leave the White House in February. He’s an economic redistributionist rather that a power-seeking progressive and he worked for President Bill Clinton in 1993. (RELATED: Gene Sperling issues panicked call for extended unemployment benefits)

In his comments, Sperling argued that additional government redistribution since 2009 has pulled up to 9 million people out of poverty, but he also indirectly acknowledged the failure of President Barack Obama’s economic policies. The president, he said, has proposed measures to jump-start the economy “so it’s not three people looking for every one job open.”

However, Sperling loyally stuck to the Obama’s current tactic of hiding Obamacare behind a battle over unemployment. “Let’s move quickly now because we’re in an urgent situation,” Sperling insisted to the reporters.

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