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Obama Defends Long-Term Unemployed As He Pushes For Benefits Extension

"The long-term unemployed are not lazy."

Posted on January 7, 2014, at 12:52 p.m. ET

President Obama urged Congress Tuesday to quickly pass a bill guaranteeing millions of Americans unemployment benefits for an additional three months. The president was speaking immediately after the Senate voted 60-37 to begin debate on the final passage of the bill.

"Now, I have heard the argument that says extending unemployment insurance will somehow hurt the unemployed because it zaps their motivation to get a new job. I really want to go at this for a second," the president said to applause. "That really sells the American people short. I meet a lot of people as president of the United States, and as candidate for president of the United States, and as a U.S. senator, and as a state senator. I meet a lot of people, and I can't name a time where I met an American who would rather have an unemployment check than the pride of having a job."

Even if the Senate ultimately votes to extend benefits, the bill is widely expected to meet stiff opposition in the Republican-controlled House unless a deal is made to pay for the benefits which cost $6.5 billion. While the bill was sponsored by Democratic Sen. Jack Reed and Republican Sen. Dean Heller, only six Republicans voted to begin final debate on the bill.

The president also pushed back at the contention that unemployed Americans were lazy or lacking motivation, citing the economic crisis.

"The long-term unemployed are not lazy. They are not lacking in motivation," he said. "They are coping with the aftermath of the worst economic crisis in generations. In some cases they may have a skills mismatch."

"They may have been doing a certain job for 20 years, suddenly they lose that job, he continued. "They may be an older worker, may have to get retrained. It's hard. Sometimes employers will discriminate if you have been out of work for a while. They decide, well, we're not sure we want to hire you, we'd rather hire somebody who's still working right now. So it's hard out there."

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