The federal deficit is approaching a record $1.5 trillion this year, and the nation has taken on the most debt, relative to the gross domestic product, since World War II. Zandi said getting the deficit under control was important — but not at the risk of impeding the fragile recovery.
Jobless benefits now help keep the economy from backsliding by pouring at least $8 billion monthly into the economy. Each dollar in unemployment insurance generates $1.60 in GDP growth, giving the economy more bang for the buck than any other federal stimulus spending, he said.
"The risk is, if you don't do something like this, you could undermine the recovery," Zandi said Monday. "The vast major of people who are on UI are there because they have no other options."
The National Employment Law Project has estimated that workers land better jobs if they are able to hold out a few weeks for the best fit.
"The reality is that unemployment benefits are anything but a luxury, they are a necessity to keep families going while they look harder than ever for work," said Maurice Emsellem, a policy co-director at the Washington-based advocacy group.
Congress historically has approved unemployment benefits as emergency spending measures, without requiring budget cuts elsewhere. Since the economic recovery act was passed in 2009, Congress has approved four other expansions and extensions of jobless benefits totaling $35 billion, mostly passed without offsets.
Obama's appearance on the issue came in spite of the certainty that Congress will extend jobless benefits, reflecting his increasingly politicized approach to economic issues.
Obama also recently mocked House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R- Ohio) for contending that legislation overhauling financial regulations amounted to "killing an ant with a nuclear weapon."
"An ant!" Obama said at a fundraising event in Kansas City, Mo., this month. "That's what he called what we just went through. You can imagine a movie, 'The Ant That Ate Our Economy.' "
Republicans took offense at Obama's critique. "The president continues to politicize this," Price said. "We're borrowing money from China for our citizens' unemployment insurance. That's wrong."
Nonetheless, Obama continued with his tone on Monday, even with the fight all but won.
"Over the past few weeks, a majority of senators have tried — not once, not twice, but three times — to extend emergency relief on a temporary basis," Obama said. "It's time to do what's right, not for the next election, but for the middle class."