Before leaving for a district workweek, congressional lawmakers handed President Obama a victory by passing legislation to extend the payroll tax cut and federal unemployment program without the typical knock-down-drag-out fight.
“Congress did the right thing and extended the payroll tax cut for working Americans through the rest of the year. That’s about $1,000 for the typical American family,” said Obama. “And that’s part of what lifted the economy when it was on the verge of a Great Depression.”
But many did so with a great deal of reluctance. Some individuals may have their unemployment benefits cut by 30 weeks. In addition, newly hired federal workers will be required to pay a higher percentage of their salaries in contributions, which will help pay for the unemployment measure in the bill, and the “doc fix” to ensure doctors are fully compensated for serving Medicare patients.
“Our federal employees are not a piggy bank. We should not reach into their pockets every time we need to pay for something. In return for their hard work and dedication, the majority has rewarded federal workers with an unprecedented assault on their compensation and benefits,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), who along with 131 other House members voted against the bill. “Federal workers have already contributed $60 billion toward the reduction of our federal deficit. They are now being asked to pay for even more, while we refuse to ask millionaires and billionaires to contribute one additional penny.”
Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Missouri) also voted nay, saying that he could not “in good conscience fully support” the bill, although he’s pleased that 160 million Americans will benefit from the payroll tax cut and millions more will continue to receive unemployment insurance while looking for work.
“Time and time again, the Republican Leadership has asked a single group of Americans to bear the burden of reducing the deficit. Federal employees have already sacrificed $60 billion through pay freezes, toward reducing our deficit,” Cleaver said. “This is a clear assault on our public servants, the majority of whom work throughout our nation as police officers, mechanics, lawyers, environmentalists, nurses, mine inspectors and more.”
The bill adds $101 billion to the deficit, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate, which means that Obama and lawmakers could find themselves in a battle over raising the nation’s debt ceiling just before the November elections.