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Obama, Dems to push for jobless benefits extension

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama and Democrats promise a major push when Congress returns Jan. 6 to renew extended unemployment benefits that expired Saturday for an estimated 1.3 million workers, including almost 14,000 on Long Island.

Democrats have spent much of the holiday week criticizing Republicans for resisting a renewal of the emergency jobless aid program, which began in 2008 under President George W. Bush and has been extended every year since then.

"As the president has repeatedly made clear, it defies economic sense, precedent and our values to allow 1.3 million Americans fighting to find jobs to see their unemployment insurance abruptly cut off -- especially in the middle of the holiday season," Gene Sperling, director of the White House National Economic Council, said in a statement Friday.

The federal benefits kick in once people exhaust their state jobless benefits, which end in many states after 26 weeks. In New York, the program allowed benefits to continue for as long as 79 weeks.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) vowed to make an extension of the benefits the top issue in his chamber after the holiday recess.

The plan is expected to face opposition in the Republican-led House, but Democrats said last week they are increasingly optimistic about gaining political traction for the issue.

In New York State, 102,700 jobless workers were losing their benefits, according to the state Department of Labor. Those included 6,100 in Nassau County and 7,600 in Suffolk County.

Democrats have seized on a comment earlier this month from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that extending the unemployment benefits would be a "disservice" to those out of work by giving them less of an incentive to rejoin the workforce more quickly.

Republicans have argued that the emergency federal unemployment benefits were always meant to be temporary and that the program would worsen the deficit unless offset by reductions in spending elsewhere.

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