Congress Returns to Contrasting Agendas

WASHINGTON —The dysfunctional 113th Congress, hamstrung by Tea Party Republicans, returns Jan. 6 to, unfortunately, more of the same – as shown by its contrasting agendas for its first week back.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., plans a vote that same day on a 3-month extension of emergency federal benefits for the long-term jobless.  When Congress quit at the end of last year, it did so without approving the money, so 1.3 million people lost their checks after benefits expired on Dec. 28.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, Right Wing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., dreamed up another excuse for another vote against the Affordable Care Act, the comprehensive 2010 health care reform law.  This time, Cantor claims, it’s because of security of medical records of people who sign up for the ACA’s exchanges – even though, unlike the private sector, there have been no leaks of personal data.

Organized labor and Democratic President Obama are pushing for the jobless benefits extension.  So is the pro-worker Campaign for America’s Future, which sent an e-mail to its members, asking them to contact senators, urging a vote for it.  There has been no word on whether the Senate GOP would try to filibuster the benefits to death.

“If Congress doesn’t act now, 2014 promises to be a very bad year for the long-term unemployed.  3.6 million more people will lose what little income they have.  This doesn’t make it any easier to find them all jobs.  It means evictions, foreclosures, children without school clothing.  And it means money taken out of a still-fragile economy,” America’s Future Chair Roger Hickey says.

Meanwhile, says Lauren Weiner of the union-supported Americans United for Change, Cantor is engaging in “ham-fisted demagoguery” to scare people away from health care by raising the specter of non-existent security breaches.  Cantor’s memo to his GOP colleagues alleges that personal information “entered into a government-mandated website,” could be “compromised.”

“That’s nice rhetoric, I suppose, and it certainly dovetails well with the coordi-nated Republican effort, complete with carefully staged ‘field hearings,’ to raise fears about health care and security,” Weiner comments.  “It’s obvious that GOP officials really put a lot of thought into multifaceted public-relations plan.  But it’s nevertheless a reminder about Republican lawmakers’ indifference to substance and governing.

“GOP officials are eager to scare consumers – if Americans are worried about non-existent security problems, maybe they’ll think twice before enrolling for coverage and participating in the system,” she adds.  Those doubts “would satisfy the GOP’s unhinged ideological goals” to abolish the health care law.