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Pre-Thanksgiving GOP Vote: Disgusting

The U.S. Commerce Department reports today that corporate profits are at a record high, at a time when corporations are sitting on $1.8 trillion in cash reserves. At the same time, 15 million Americans are still looking for work.

Two years after the financial collapse caused by right-wing deregulation and corporate greed, Wall Street is handing out its biggest bonuses in history – more than $144 billion. At the same time, millions of working Americans are struggling to feed their families, pay their bills and keep a roof over their heads.

And the situation is set to get even more painful in the months ahead. Millions of Americans – 2 million in December alone – will be cut off from unemployment insurance. Republicans in Congress blocked an extension of this emergency lifeline just before leaving Washington, DC, for their Thanksgiving recess.

Most laid-off workers desperately want to get back to work. But the jobs are just not there. Yet, while families are struggling, the U.S. House failed to pass a much-needed extension in unemployment benefits. The members who voted to make life more difficult for the unemployed should hang their heads in shame. Their vote, one week before Thanksgiving, was disgusting. . . .

Unemployment insurance gives a powerful boost to the economy. It creates jobs. Families that receive unemployment insurance put that money straight back into the economy. They spend the money on essentials – like food for dinner, winter clothes for their kids and heat for their homes. Every dollar spent on unemployment insurance creates two dollars of economic activity, supporting local businesses, helping create jobs, and costing taxpayers less in the long run. Given how slow and fragile the economic recovery is right now, we need to put money back into the economy.

Americans strongly support extending unemployment insurance while so many remain out of work. A new poll by Hart Research Associates indicates that nearly three in four Americans say it is too early to cut jobless benefits. Republicans in Congress, however, seem uninterested in getting the economy moving and helping Americans through this crisis. They’re more focused on tax cuts for millionaires.

Earlier this year Republican Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky single-handedly held up unemployment insurance payments to families struggling to get by. When a colleague tried to get him to stop his games, Republican Bunning replied: “Tough shit.”

Unfortunately for millions of families this holiday season, more than a handful of Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives agree with Bunning. Incoming House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) says that the middle class should get assistance only when the rich get a tax cut. Tea Party leader Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) says she is only willing to compromise on taxes if unemployment insurance isn’t part of the deal.

Wealthy Americans shouldn’t be given tax breaks while millions of their fellow Americans lose their unemployment insurance. Working families – who have been struggling to do more with less and less – need a break, not the CEOs and the corporate conservatives. Congress must extend unemployment benefits for Americans struggling to find a job and keep the tax cuts for middle-class families. It’s time to do what’s right for Americans who’ve lost their jobs and for everyone who is struggling to survive the economic disaster created by Wall Street and their Republican allies.

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Gerald McEntee

Gerald McEntee

Gerald W. McEntee is the International President of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), one of the most aggressive and politically active organizing unions in the AFL-CIO. Since 2006, 145,000 women and men have changed their lives by forming a union with AFSCME. McEntee was first elected AFSCME President in 1981 and was re-elected in July 2008 to another four-year term.

As a Vice President of the AFL-CIO and chair of the Political Education Committee, McEntee is a key leader of the labor movement and its political efforts. Under McEntee’s leadership, the federation created its highly successful and much imitated voter education and mobilization program, which increased the number of union household voters to a record 26 percent of the electorate in 2006.

McEntee has long been a leader in the fight to reform the nation’s health care system. He chairs the AFL-CIO’s Health Care Committee and is a co-chair of Health Care for America NOW!, a national grassroots coalition that has launched a $40 million campaign to guarantee quality, affordable health care for all Americans.

McEntee is a co-founder and chairman of the board of the Economic Policy Institute, the preeminent voice for working Americans on the economy. He led the successful fight to stop President Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security, was an outspoken proponent for increasing the federal minimum wage, and is one of the nation’s leading advocates for America’s vital public services.

For his efforts to improve the lives of working families, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights presented McEntee with its prestigious Hubert H. Humphrey Award in 2004.

Before assuming the presidency of AFSCME, McEntee began his distinguished career as a labor leader in Pennsylvania in 1958. He led the drive to unionize more than 75,000 Pennsylvania public service employees, which at that time was the largest union mobilization in history. He was elected Executive Director at the founding convention of AFSCME Council 13 in Pennsylvania in 1973 and an International Vice President of AFSCME in 1974.

McEntee holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from LaSalle University in Philadelphia. A native of Philadelphia, McEntee and his wife Barbara live in Washington, DC.