Two of the pressing issues facing the country and Congress are the set to expire tax cuts and unemployment benefits. Democrats have argued for an extension of tax cuts for the middle class (those under $250,000 a year) and extending unemployment benefits. Republicans feel that the unemployed have depended too greatly on these benefits and are harming a growing deficit while they favor adding to that deficit via a full tax cut extension for all classes. It has set up a battle that looks like classic gridlock after the country “voted” for positive change in terms of the economy and economic measures.
Looking at unemployment benefits, across the country and here in New Jersey; average hardworking Americans are seeing their benefits slowly slipping away after weeks of trying to get back on their feet. The reality for many is starting to set in as they start to “lose time” in finding a job and a solution to their economic woes. As Christmas nears, extended jobless benefits began to run out for 400,000 New Jerseyans alone this week. The harsh reality is a result of Congress failing to approve an additional emergency extension that would have extended the claims time from 99 weeks to a longer period. The 400,000 in New Jersey are a fraction of the roughly 2 million Americans who will be affected.
First time unemployment benefit fliers are eligible for 26 weeks of state-funded benefits with an additional 20 weeks during high unemployment rates times like now. That 26 week limit is down from the current 99 week mark. Furthermore, those currently receiving extended benefits will only have roughly 20 more weeks of those checks. That number could be higher based on the amount of time individuals have been collecting benefit checks. As of December 1st, the new guidelines have taken effect where everyone will finish out the current benefit limits before moving to those last 20 weeks of checks.
The moves or lack there of by certain officials in Washington has made already difficult times that much more difficult for many who now know they have even less to depend on. These checks are not a lot, but they afford for cash strapped New Jerseyans and Americans to pay bills and maintain at least part of their normal lives. Lawmakers need to take a harder look at themselves and realize that these are not common times and so many people are trying to find work and until they do; unemployment benefit checks allow them to get by.
This would have been the fifth extension since the recession started and would have been an additional $12.5 billion; a number that some see as too high to remain on a path of fiscal responsibility. Yet, again, these are not times when lawmakers should be over stressing fiscal responsibility while they potentially allow more of the public to become poor as they would no longer have some form of income via these checks.
Only Congressmen Scott Garrett (R-NJ5), Leonard Lance (R-NJ7), and Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ11) voted against the extension amongst the New Jersey Congressmen. Largely, their reasons were based on the financial end and paying for more benefits.
According to Deputy Commissioner for the state Labor Department, Richard Constable, under the current economic times everyone is entitled to at least 10+ months of benefits.
Some might recall Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) this past summer being the filibuster vote against one of the unemployment benefit extensions. Congress was able to readdress the expired benefits after Bunning ended his filibuster and there is some hope that there could be a possibility of that happening with these current benefits on a limited timetable.
Then, there is the matter of Bush-era tax cuts, which the House Thursday voted on. The vote was largely along party lines and was for extending cuts only for the middle class and below; a measure that will probably not lead to anything substantive, but more symbolic for the the Democrats. With about a month to go until the new Congress is sworn in, both parties want to highlight their case and by voting on this Democrats are firmly showing the majority of the voting public that they are fighting for what they want. Roughly 2 out of every 3 support an extension for all tax cuts sunder roughly $250,000 a year.
The vote cleared the House by a vote of 234 to 188. 20 Democrats joined the near unified Republican voting bloc. Three Republicans bucked their party and voted in favor of the bill. The proposed bill outlines extending the Bush-era tax cuts for individuals making $200,000 or less and couples making $250,000 or less a year.
The vote should and could serve as a sign to the American public that Republicans rather watch the middle class suffer if they do not get a full extension of all tax cuts despite billionaires like Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates saying they would accept and prefer to be taxed higher. Republicans, ever the “bipartisanship loving group”, felt “betrayed” after thinking they had got President Obama and the Democrats into a compromise; a compromise that favored their objectives more or less. After months of giving Democrats and the country the figurative “finger”; House Democrats gave the Republicans a taste of their own medicine in moving the country in a needed direction.
Ever the classy and emotional man he is, soon-to-be Speaker of the House John Boehner called the vote nothing short of “chicken crap”.
Unfortunately, like many bills and proposals that House Democrats largely have gotten through the House; this bill will certainly find a gravestone next to many others in the U.S. Senate after Republicans and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s stance on filibustering any legislation that was not a full extension of the Bush era tax cuts or job creation legislation; that obviously met the requirements for McConnell.
Despite what some on the far left see as wavering by Obama, he praised the House Democrats’ move and still is standing by extending only the middle class tax cuts.
The Democrats, who voted opposite the majority of their party, have argued for a temporary extension of all tax cuts and a permanent extension of only the middle class tax cuts. They take the small 2% of that upper class and magnify them to be at least 25% of the tax revenue. That is not far off actual statistics because if you make more, you are most likely putting more back in taxes and other outlets. Normally if you have more money, you are going to be more flexible with your expenses like large purchases or employee perks and bonuses. But, also if you make more; losing a little more will not take as a big of a hit to your budget as anyone under $250,000 would feel.
Thus, as two crucial matters sit in Congress this week; both parties are showing where they stand in trying to help the American public. Extending unemployment benefits in the past has made sense and it still makes sense especially at this time of the year when the recession is still greatly affecting people and suffering American should have some form of a gleam of hope around the holiday season. The same thing can be said in terms of what Democrats fought to get through the House on Thursday. The Senate Democrats should and most likely will look to take a similar vote this week or next to echo their colleagues in the House.
American voters should hopefully start to open their eyes. If you are receiving unemployment checks and cannot seem to land a job, examine how Democrats are working to ensure you can keep that minimum income. If you are making under $250,000 and enjoy those tax cuts, examine how Democrats are working to ensure that you do not lose those cuts and add to the deficit by fully extending cuts to everyone, which includes the wealthy.
Too often in this country, the minority try to dictate the conversation because they are the loudest. Too often, people choose to ignore facts and listen to misinformation. Too often the sins of elected officials get rewarded. As the debates and conversations take place over this month, please pay attention and see who is truly trying to make the proper changes for you. Clearly, the party of “no” needs to be called out and shown for their harm for the average, hardworking Americans of this country. Instead, they are fighting for the hardworking and/or lucky millionaires and billionaires of this country.