A temporary payroll tax cut compromise and extension of unemployment benefits passed by a wide margin in the Senate and was announced by President Obama on Saturday morning. But now it is expected to fail in the Republican-controlled House Monday night.
The deal for a two-month extension fell apart only hours after the president went on national television expressing gratitude to the Senate and saying he expected the agreement to pass the House and be turned into a 12-month extension as soon as Congress re-convenes early in 2012.
Tea party Republicans in the House balked Saturday afternoon during briefings on the agreement by their GOP leaders. Nothing it appeared, not even a provision to speed up the decision process for construction of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast, would satisfy these tea party Republicans, sources said.
The latest GOP brinksmanship sets the stage for smaller paychecks for 160 million Americans next month and the potential loss of unemployment benefits for millions without jobs.
For millions of long-term jobless people watching the news this weekend being at home for the holidays became even more miserable and unnerving than it has been already.
Jamie Barrett of Charlotte, N.C., who lost her job as an administrative assistant in December 2010, is one of 70,000 in that state who will lose benefits Dec. 31. Barrett, a single mom of three small children — two with asthma and another with a heart murmur — has 10 years experience as an administrator.
“It’s painful,” she said. “It’s hurtful, because I’m not able to provide the big Christmas that I’m used to for my kids just to make sure that we have money so we can have a roof over our heads,” she recently told the Charlotte Post.
Barrett said she has been applying for 10-15 jobs a day, over 100 a week at times, searching online sites from Career Builder to Monster Jobs to staffing agencies. “If you cut these benefits,” she said, “It will be to a point where I will not have the resources to even get to a job interview.”
Republican House Speaker John Boehner, on national news shows over the weekend, claimed that Republican lawmakers in the House oppose the extensions approved in the 89-10 vote in the Senate because it was “just kicking the can down the road.”
The collapse of the deal has economists fearing a major setback for the economy, which has struggled to maintain even the semblance of a very fragile recovery.
A Politico commentary noted, “The failure of Congress to enact an extension to Obama’s tax cut plays into his hands politically. For months, the president has been running against a dysfunctional Congress.”
“We are witnessing a pattern of Speaker Boehner walking away from bipartisan compromises to kowtow to his extreme tea party wing of his caucus,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said in a statement. “This is the latest example of the tea party Republicans sacrificing the good of the country on the altar of extreme ideology.”
Back in July, Boehner and Obama were said to be close to reaching a big “deficit-reduction” agreement but Boehner backed off due to tea party Republicans refusing to consider any income tax increase on the wealthy.
With Senate Democrats saying yesterday that they have no intention of returning to Washington before the opening of the next session in January 2012, the likelihood of smaller paychecks and no benefits for many millions is higher than ever.
“There are only two choices for the House Republicans at this point,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. “Pass this bipartisan compromise or else they alone will be responsible for letting taxes rise on the middle class.”
Tea party Republicans are digging in their heels, many believe, because what they really want is radical changes to, if not outright elimination of, unemployment benefits. Legislation to extend the payroll tax cuts that passed the Republican-controlled House last week included an array of measures aimed at weakening the unemployment insurance program, as well as restrictions on welfare programs including Aid to Families with Dependent Children. These measures, which the rightwing has traditionally fought to impose on social safety net programs, call for drug tests, shortened time limits, stricter requirements regarding the search for work, forced enrollment in education programs and a variety of other policy changes.
In so doing, observers note, tea party Republicans are frightening even other Republicans because they are adding white, middle-class and older Americans to the minority groups they have traditionally attacked. Most of those collecting unemployment benefits are white and older, and a sizeable number are actually part of the GOP’s core constituency.
Although Senate Republicans voted for the compromise bill on Saturday, they backed off by Sunday, throwing their support behind Boehner, saying they now favor a yearlong extension. That, of course, was the plan originally favored by President Obama and the Democrats but opposed by Republicans.
As if to confirm that there are absolutely no limits to all the Republican obstruction, the GOP has now even blocked President Obama’s nominee to head the Government Printing Office.
William Boarman, the president’s nominee, told The Hill Monday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had “worked hard to clear the objections of Hatch and Isakson (two Republican senators) and they thought it was a done deal, and then they just said no, and they wouldn’t give them a reason.”
Photo: At a “Vigil for the Unemployed” in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP)