For many, Republicans in the U.S. House were like Grinches stealing their Christmas after lawmakers stalled legislation that would increase a payroll tax cut already in place and extend unemployment benefits.
“I’m going to enjoy my holidays,” said Dane Osborne, standing in the pulpit at Arch Street Methodist Church, surrounding by the trappings of Christmas. “But, not like I’m accustomed to.”
The 60 year-old was laid off in January from a job he’d held at Home Depot for almost 18 years.
“They cut 7,000 of us in one shot,” he said, with a shake of his head. “And, I’ve been trying to find employment ever since then.”
Osborne spoke at a rally to urge the House to extend unemployment benefits and approve an increase in the payroll tax cuts proposed by President Barack Obama and recently approved by the Senate. This week the House shot down the proposal.
The unemployment rate stands at 8.6 percent and Osborne is among an estimated 15 million unemployed Americans who is waiting to see whether the House will cut off benefits.
“I’m having difficulties like a whole lot of Americans and whole lot of Pennsylvanians,” said Osborne.
Republicans in the House on Tuesday, in a 229-193 vote, scuttled a bipartisan Senate bill that would have extended those benefits for two months while legislators worked out a long-term bill. Without an extension, 2 million people could lose their benefits by February, including 75,000 Pennsylvanians.
“Unemployment helps you get by, but it doesn’t pay all your bills,” said Osborne, noting that the checks are smaller than many suppose. “I hope something happens to change the direction we’re going in, so we can start to live like Americans again.”
The average unemployment check is $295 a week.
Rather than pass the two-month extension, House Republicans have rallied around a plan that would have extended the payroll tax cut for one year. But that version also contained spending cuts opposed by Democrats and tighter rules for jobless benefits.
The two-month extension passed by the Senate before its holiday recess was a compromise intended to give lawmakers a little more breathing room. With the Senate in recess its unclear what if anything will happen.
If some sort of legislation isn’t passed by Jan. 1, payroll taxes will go up by almost $20 a week for a worker making a $50,000 salary. In addition, doctors would bear big cuts in Medicare payments.
We want the government to do whatever is necessary to extend these benefits - and we want jobs,” said Osborne. “We really need jobs to make a difference.”
The rally – which also served as a toy giveaway – drew about 100 people - including local politicians, labor leaders and advocates for the unemployed. It also brought out many children who will likely face a bleak Christmas as their parents struggle financially.
The anger in the room was evident.
“They should be fired,” thundered Pat Eiding, president of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO. “Let them collect unemployment.”
He predicted that if Republicans continued their political brinksmanship many would be turned out of office in the next election.
“I would normally apologize for my anger in a place of worship,” Eiding said. “But I think it’s time for us to get angry. It’s time for us to rise up and tell them we’re not going to take this anymore.”
Then in a reference to House Speaker John Boehner and a recent quote that accused the Senate of kicking the can down the road with their temporary bill, Eiding added: “The day will come when we will be kicking ‘Bonehead’ down the street and not a can.”
On Thursday, it appeared that the standoff could easily drag on until the end of the year.
In addition to the highly publicized duel over payroll taxes and benefits, Medicare announced this week that, as it has in the past when doctors’ reimbursements have been cut through congressional inaction, it would withhold physicians’ payments for two weeks in January to avoid passing on a 27 percent cut in Medicare fees.
The time had come, said John Dodds, director of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, for citizens to take action and force the House to act.
“Let’s see if we can wake up the Congress of this country,” he said.