By Jonathan Oosting
Metro Detroit Democrats say that political gamesmanship could mean big trouble for Michigan residents with or without a job.
The U.S. House on Tuesday rejected a compromise bill that would have extended the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance for two months, instead seeking a conference with the Senate, which already left Washington for the holidays.
Without approval by January 1, an average middle class family would pay around $1,000 in additional taxes next year and the out-of-work Americans would face a much shorter window for insurance benefits.
"If you're unemployed in Michigan right now, you're in big trouble," said Rep. Hansen Clarke of Detroit. "If Congress doesn't act right now, somebody in Michigan that loses their job next month will no longer be eligible for 99 weeks of unemployment insurance. They'll only be eligible for 20. That's a stark difference. That's what's at stake right now."
Democrats and Republicans both say they'd like to extend the payroll tax cut and insurance benefits, but they've squabbled for several weeks over payment mechanisms, length and even health care.
While members of both parties say they'd like to see a full-year extension for the tax cuts, the Senate moved forward with a temporary two-month package, which was approved in a bipartisan vote.
Rep. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Hills suggested the Tea Party is driving the agenda in the Republican-controlled House, which rejected the Senate measure on Tuesday.
"Too many families are struggling during these tough economic times, and it is unconscionable for Republicans to exploit this situation for political gains," he said.
"Families in Michigan simply can't afford a middle class tax hike or the elimination of safety net programs for the unemployed, so I'm calling on the Republicans to stop playing games and stand with the 39 Republican Senators that were willing to compromise."
House Republicans say they are still willing to work out an extension by the end of the year, and they are calling on the Senate to return to Washington in order to negotiate a deal by the end of the year.
"We're simply asking the senate to come back and work," Republican Rep. Candice Miller of Harrison Township said Tuesday on WJR-AM 760. "If you don't come back to work, we're not going to get anything done."
Clarke suggested that politically-savvy Republicans may be trying to make Senate Democrats look bad, but he said immediate action is needed, even if that means working the week between Christmas and New Years.
"I refuse to get involved in all the politics of blaming people," he said. " I'm just trying to work out something so people in Michigan are able to get their unemployment insurance. That's critical. That's a matter of survival.
"I'm going to make that very clear to my colleagues that we should come back after Christmas and make sure we get this done. Regardless of how it looks politically, we have to do it."