The North Coast’s two Democratic Congress members resisted the tide of bipartisan support for renewing a Social Security payroll tax cut Friday, voting against the main legislation on President Barack Obama’s jobs agenda.
Both said the sweeping support in the House and Senate was overshadowed by serious flaws in the legislation.
“They borrowed $100 billion to do that,” said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, referring to the cut in money paid into Social Security from paychecks. “Tax cuts ought to be paid for.”
And Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, who is retiring this year after 20 years in Congress, objected to reductions in federal pensions and funding for preventative health care.
The Senate approved the $143 billion measure 60-36 minutes after the House approved it 293-132, with 41 Democrats voting no. Obama is expected to sign it shortly after returning from a West Coast fundraising swing.
Under the bill, workers would continue to receive a 2 percentage point increase in their paychecks, and people out of work for more than six months would keep jobless benefits averaging about $300 a week.
Obama said the steps will help support a fragile recovery from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Many GOP lawmakers and some Democrats were upset that the measure would add to the deficit and doubted it would do much to boost the economy. Another concern was that it cuts a payroll tax that’s dedicated to paying Social Security benefits.
The agreement also would head off a steep cut in reimbursements for physicians who treat Medicare patients.
It would be paid for by trimming Medicare reimbursements to health care providers to cover unpaid medical bills, cutting payments to hospitals that treat large numbers of poor patients and cutting a fund created in Obama’s health care overhaul for preventing diseases caused by smoking and obesity.
Thompson criticized cutting payments to hospitals and said the bill missed a chance to craft a longtime fix to the problem of Medicare payments to doctors.
Woolsey criticized the cuts as “damaging to the middle class.”
“We don’t need to squeeze federal employees and slash funding for preventive health care in order to extend unemployment benefits,” she said in a statement.
Extending the 2 percentage point cut in the 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax would save around $80 monthly for someone earning $50,000 a year and give a maximum cut of $2,200 to high-end earners.
The reduction in the payroll tax would cost $93 billion through 2022. In a sudden concession this week that made bipartisan agreement possible, House Republicans dropped their demand that the tax cut be paid for with spending reductions.
In a GOP win, coverage for the long-term unemployed would be cut from the current maximum of 99 weeks to a ceiling of 73 weeks by this fall in states with the worst job markets, with most topping out at 63 weeks.
Of the $30 billion cost of the extended unemployment benefits, half would be paid for by government sales of parts of the nation’s broadcast airwaves, and half by requiring federal workers hired after this year to contribute an additional 2.3 percent of their pay for their pensions, up from the current 0.8 percent.
That increase also would apply to members of Congress, but only to those who begin service as of next January, exempting current lawmakers.
This story includes information from the Associated Press. You can reach Staff Writer Sam Scott at 521-5431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.