GOP uses payroll tax cut extension to slash jobless benefits

Republicans in Congress voted 234 to 193 yesterday to slash more than in half the number of weeks people can collect unemployment benefits next year.

The bill, which the GOP is trying to pass off as an extension of President Obama's payroll tax cut for workers, also cuts pay for public employees, slashes preventive health services, reduces premium assistance for low and middle income people purchasing health insurance, and raises premiums for Medicare recipients.

Republicans balked at the payroll tax cut extension sought by the Democrats because the Democratic bill is paid for by a small surtax on millionaires rather than by slashing the salaries and health care benefits of workers.

The GOP bill "abandons millions of U.S. workers and those communities hardest hit by the most severe jobs crisis since the Great Depression," declared the National Employment Law Project in a statement it issued after the vote in Congress.

"To jobseekers and states hit hard by long-term unemployment, this proposal offers a cold cynical shrug," said NELP executive director, Christine Owens. "Anyone serious about helping workers and businesses get going again needs to know that is neither a serious nor acceptable way forward."

"House Republicans obviously have more sympathy for millionaires than for the jobless," declared AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

The leading Democrat in Congress derided the Republican bill.

"I think what they have in the proposed bill is the wrong side of ridiculous," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said at a Capitol Hill press conference. "They cut out a couple score of weeks. And listen to this one: As I read the bill, as my staff reads the bill, they require drug testing for people who are drawing unemployment compensation."

The Republican bill cuts the maximum duration of help to the jobless from 99 to 59 weeks, and allows states to cut benefits further.

The bill also pushes the Obama administration into approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which his administration, with the support of environmentalists, has put on hold.

The GOP maneuvering on the bill has put millions on edge this holiday season.

If the Unemployment Insurance program is not renewed, 2 million workers will lose their benefits next month and 6 million in 2012.

The White House has already threatened to veto the Republican measure.

President Obama' veto threat called attention to the provisions that Republicans use to pay for the bill they passed yesterday, including repeal of funding for the 2010 healthcare law. Portions of the bill that use pay cuts and benefit cuts to workers to pay for the legislation violate spending agreements Republicans made during the talks this summer over lifting of the debt limit ceiling, says the administration.

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