While President Obama was defending his tax cut compromise inside the White House this afternoon, Congressman Anthony Weiner was at Borough Hall in Queens, putting a human face on the debate.
“What we must remember is that at the base of this discussion are real, live people here in New York and the values for what this country stands for,” Weiner said.
He was joined by Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and Cheryl Sikovitz, a Queens resident who is on her 73rd week of unemployment benefits.
“This isn’t a political inside bank-shot game. That there are real people that we should be fighting for, that solving problems is what we’re supposed to be in Washington to do, and this is not just who’s up, and who’s down,” Weiner said.
“I am very troubled by the idea that we lost sight of that. And we said, who are we supposed to be fighting for? I believe every day we should be fighting for the middle class, those people struggling to make it into the middle class. That’s who I wake up trying to fight for every day. That’s who Cheryl represents.”
About 190,000 New Yorkers stand to lose their unemployment insurance at the end of the year, according to Weiner, unless Congress passes–and the president signs–an extension of those benefits. The compromise floated by the White House yesterday would extend the benefits through 2011, in exchange for keeping the tax cuts on the highest tax bracket for the next two years. (The deal would not extend the benefits beyond their current 99-week limit.)
“We have been hit pretty hard here,” Marshall said of Queens, which currently has about 47,000 residents who stand to lose their benefits next year. “Although the recession officially ended in 2009–in June–the need continues for unemployment benefits.”
Weiner said that the deal-making and backroom politics are to blame for politicians losing sight of the true matter at hand.
“The fact of the matter is that this debate is an odd one: it pits millionaires and billionaires, who already have done very, very well, against people who have suffered in the down turn of this economy,” he said.
“[Those receiving unemployment benefits] should not be held captive on the altar of whether someone gets their third, fourth, or fifth millionth dollar, or their second or third billionth dollar. This is a fight about what this country is all about and I think the President of the United States needs to understand that.”