Labor to launch attacks on Republicans in benefits fight

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 21, 2011 6:23 PM
Labor to launch attacks on Republicans in benefits fight

By Rachelle Younglai

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Labor unions on Wednesday ramped up the pressure on Republican lawmakers to approve a Senate plan that would extend jobless benefits for millions of unemployed Americans.

Congress is deadlocked over how to provide the relief after Republicans in the House of Representatives on Tuesday scuttled a short-term measure that had been approved in the Senate with overwhelming Republican and Democratic support.

Most House Republicans voted against the Senate bill, which would extend by two months long-term jobless benefits and a payroll tax cut for 160 million Americans.

"We'll be hitting them in the media in their home districts," said labor union umbrella group AFL-CIO spokeswoman Amaya Tune. "We'll continue to look at what ways we can shame Republicans for this horrible vote," she said.

Republicans refused to approve the Senate bill, saying they wanted to work on a full-year extension -- a plan Democrats support but have failed to broker because the sides disagree on how to cover the costs.

If Congress fails to extend jobless benefits, nearly 700,000 people would lose them by the second week of January and nearly 2.2 million would be cut off by mid-February, according to the Labor Department. Some 13 million Americans are unemployed, of whom nearly 6 million have been without a job for more than a year.

The AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor group, and other advocacy groups such as Working America, the Philadelphia Unemployment Project and the National Employment Law Project are gearing up to push Republicans to vote on the two-month deal.

"We are going to challenge those representatives to get back to work and put these fixes in," said Mark MacKenzie, president of the AFL-CIO's New Hampshire office.

The National Employment Law Project is mobilizing thousands of its constituents from unemployed Americans to community advocates to call Republican lawmakers.

"This is pressure on leadership first and foremost but really it is on everybody. Get back here and pass the bill," said Judy Conti, the federal advocacy coordinator for the project.

Other labor organizers are planning a protest outside Republican House Speaker John Boehner's office in Ohio later this week.

It was unclear how lawmakers would resolve their differences before the December 31 deadline. Democrats have refused to start negotiating a full-year extension until Republicans pass the Senate's short-term measure. Republicans have proposed cutting long term benefits from 99 weeks to 59.

(Reporting By Rachelle Younglai)