The White House stressed the importance of passing a new round of unemployment insurance before Congress leaves on its holiday break next week but did not insist that it be part of any budget deal lawmakers on Capitol Hill are finalizing.

Unemployment benefits for nearly 1.3 million people are set to expire at the end of the year, and they are currently not a part of the deal being negotiated by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash.

“We, as the president said, believe Congress should extend unemployment insurance,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Friday. “The vehicle that they use to do that is less important than the fact that they do it.”

Carney later urged Congress to find a way to extend the benefits, noting that withholding them for millions of families right after Christmas would be a bad precedent to start.

At least for now, the White House is trying to steer clear of publicly trying to influence the budget negotiations with reports Friday that Murray and Ryan are just a few billion dollars in budget savings away from a deal to replace the sequester for the next two years.

“I would simply say that we hope and expect that they can reach [a deal],” Carney said. “But I don't want to characterize the progress in any way except to say that any sense that there is a return to an ability for each side to come together and reach a compromise on budget matters would be welcome.”