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Pressure Continues to Build for Higher Minimum Wage

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Fast food workers won’t get the $15 living wage in time for Christmas, but their nationwide protests continue to draw attention to the growing chasm between the working poor and the super rich.

During an organized national day of action in early December, thousands of fast food workers went on strike in dozens of cities including Chicago, Boston, New York City, Los Angeles and Oakland.

It’s been more than four years since living wage advocates and low-wage workers won their last victory when the minimum wage was increased from $5.15 to $7.25.

According to a report on the minimum wage by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington D.C. think tank, focused on low- and middle-income families: “The value of the minimum wage peaked in 1968 at $1.60, which is about $9.44 measured in today’s dollars; the current minimum wage of $7.25 is 23 percent less than it was in 1968 in real terms.”

Even though economic productivity grew more than 80 percent between 1973 and 2011, EPI reported that “real hourly compensation of the median worker grew by less than 11 percent.”

Economists have found that if the federal minimum wage had kept paced with inflation and productivity growth, that wage would have reached $25 per hour.

According to the Labor Department, by 2014, 21 states and Washington D.C. will have minimum wages that exceed the federal minimum wage.

In recent months, President Obama has also expressed his support for a higher minimum wage.

President Obama stepped up his vocal support for a higher federal minimum wage, during a recent speech in Southeast, Washington, D.C., one of the nation capital’s poorest neighborhoods. Obama said that he’s not surprised that Americans are frustrated with Washington, after the government shutdown and the rocky rollout of healthcare.gov, but that he knows that their frustration runs deeper.

“Their frustration is rooted in their own daily battles — to make ends meet, to pay for college, buy a home, save for retirement. It’s rooted in the nagging sense that no matter how hard they work, the deck is stacked against them,” said President Obama.

Obama continued: “The combined trends of increased inequality and decreasing mobility pose a fundamental threat to the American Dream, our way of life, and what we stand for around the globe. And it is not simply a moral claim that I’m making here. There are practical consequences to rising inequality and reduced mobility.”

Practical consequences that include workers increasingly dependent on the very safety net programs that many Republican lawmakers want to cut.

In a report, titled “Fast Food, Poverty Wages: The Public Cost of Low-Wage Jobs in the Fast-Food Industry “ sponsored by the University of California, Berkeley, Center for Labor Research and Education and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of Urban & Regional Planning researchers found that “more than half (52 percent) of the families of front-line fast-food workers are enrolled in one or more public programs, compared to 25 percent of the workforce as a whole.”

Blacks account for 23 percent of front-line fast-food workers and 73 percent are women.

According to the report, “The federal minimum wage fails to provide sufficient income for workers to provide food, housing, health care, transportation and other basic needs for their families.”

When employers don’t pay their workers livable wages the rest of us pick up the tab.

“Due to low earnings, fast-food workers’ families also receive an annual average of $1.04 billion in food stamp benefits and $1.91 billion in Earned Income Tax Credit payments. People working in fast-food jobs are more likely to live in or near poverty. One in five families with a member holding a fast-food job has an income below the poverty line, and 43 percent have an income two times the federal poverty level or less,” stated the report.

Bernard Anderson, professor emeritus at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said that consumer spending represents two-thirds of economic activity. Anderson added that if workers are not getting significant increases in their pay they’re not going to have as much to spend.

Anderson continued: ”When you increase the minimum wage you give additional income to people who will spend most of that income. That will help the economy it won’t hurt the economy.”

Steven Pitts, an economist and associate chair at the Labor Center at the University of California at Berkeley said that oftentimes people who oppose a hard minimum wage say that you can give workers any job and in a year they’ll be doing something else.

“There’s a narrative out there that says, ‘any job is okay, because it gives you a leg up,’ but that kind of mobility is false by and large in the aggregate,” said Pitts. “The whole image that it’s the first step on the ladder is not true. We have to separate the concern over any unemployment effects to considerable long-term mobility issues.”

In “The State of Working America,” EPI reported that 63 percent of Black children that begin life in bottom forth of the income scale will stay there as adults. Thirty-two percent of White children who start in the bottom fourth will remain in the bottom fourth.

Pitts continued: “There’s a myth about how someone started in the mailroom and now they run the corporation. That’s not going to be true for most folks.”

William Spriggs, chief economist for AFL-CIO, noted that the same people that decry raising the minimum wage for fast food workers had very little to say as corporate profits skyrocketed and CEO salaries soared following the Great Recession.

In April 2013, the Associated Press reported that Don Thompson, chief executive officer of the McDonald’s Corporation, saw his pay package increase $4.1 million in 201 to $13.8 million in 2012. Jim Skinner, Thompson’s predecessor, saw his pay package rise from $8.8 million to $27.7 million.

Spriggs scoffed at the idea that low-wage workers should bear the burden of criticism for higher prices at the register.

“How many people wrote an article about the pay increases that McDonald’s CEO received or asked how much it would cost you when you go to buy a hamburger at McDonald’s?” asked Spriggs.

Spriggs continued: “They want to write an article, because someone goes from $7.25 to $10 per hour. Honestly? You think that’s significant to the price of a hamburger, but ten million dollars is not?”

Ultimately, researchers say that the economy must improve significantly, before workers and livable wage advocates can put enough pressure on companies to raise wages.

“In an economy that is just not tight at all, where the unemployment rate doesn’t really reflect the number of workers that have left the labor force, workers don’t have any bargaining power to bid up their wages and to get better benefits,” said Elise Gould, the director of health policy research at the Economic Policy Institute. “Until we have a tighter labor market, we’re really not going to see any improvements there.”

Credit Card Debt Threatens Black Middle Class

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Still reling from the Great Recession, middle class Blacks are maintaining their status by using credit to help cover their basic living expenses, according to a report from the NAACP and public policy research organization, Demos.

In the Recession’s aftermath, 79 percent of middle class African American households carry credit card debt. And although they have less debt than before the Recession, the credit crunch continues as Black households spend an average $368 on credit to make ends meet.

“The report highlights the need to look at how much credit is serving middle class Americans and how much it’s giving a false illusion,” says Dedrick Asante-Muhammad, senior director of the NAACP Economic Department and co-author of the study. “Everybody needs credit but it should be a tool to help your economic life. Now we see it as a drain on African Americans trying to gain a middle class life.”

Released earlier this month, the report, “The Challenge of Credit Card Debt for the African American Middle Class,” is an outgrowth of a larger national study on middle class credit card debt since 2010. It found that although African Americans owe less than they did in 2008, 42 percent of households are relying on their cards for basic living expenses when their incomes and savings fall short, a trend that persists across the entire middle class. Black families are also building their futures on credit, using cards to support higher education, entrepreneurship, and medical expenses.

“Use of credit in long term investments for the future is a specific African American problem, largely because of the historical impact of racism in wealth building, and current racial bias in lending,” says Demos policy analyst, Catherine Ruethschlin, who co-authored the study. “Hypothetically, if [an African American] family was in America during the ‘60s but excluded from the same wealth-building that White families had, [they] don’t have the same financial assets to fall back on.”

The seeds for economic dispartities seen today have been sown over 50 years of redlining, blockbusting, and predatory lending. Today Black Americans have $1 in assets for every $20 owned by White Americans, and, according to the study, more than half of it is tied to homeownership.

Enter the Great Recession, when the housing bubble inflated by predatory lending practices bursts, dragging the global economy and hope for long-term Black wealth down with it. Only 55 percent of the study’s Black respondents own their home, compared to the 72 percent of White respondents.

If homeownership has been considered the cornerstone of the American Dream, then education has been considered the bulldozer that clears the way. According to the report, 80 percent of Black college grads took out some amount of loans in order to attain a higher education, compared to 65 percent of Whites.

Credit debt as a result of student loans can then affect career outcomes, as credit checks are sometimes part of the hiring process. Those with poor credit are often relegated to low-paying jobs due to this dubious but legal practice.

For this and other reasons, entrepreneurship has also been considered a path to the good life. In the study, an overwhelming 99 percent of indebted moderate-income African American households who had expenses related to starting or running a business in the past three years still carry that expense on their credit card bill.

Ruethschlin explains, “If you don’t have access to small business loans because the market went dry during the Recession, those with the worst credit history are going to be the last to get back into the system. It shifts an additional financial burden. It could be those additional challenged that make it harder to run a successful business.”

Interestingly, Black and White households reported different reasons for poor credit: 44 percent of White respondents cited late mortgage payments and using all or nearly all of their credit lines while 40 percent of Black households cited late student loan payments and credit report errors.

However varied the causes, middle class credit use and debt levels are similar across race—it’s the consequences that raise eyebrows.

“I’d assume before this report that there would be greater disparities [in card use], but even the amount of debt we have is not that different,” Asante-Muhammad says. “What is different is that we have worse credit scored and receive stronger collection tactics.”

The report found that African Americans and Whites had similar rates of card default, late payments, bankruptcy, eviction, and repossession. However, 71 percent of African American households had been called by bill collectors, compared to 50 percent of White households. African Americans in the report were also more likely to report card cancellations, limit reductions, or credit rejections in the last three years (53 percent of Black respondents compared to 36 percent of Whites).

Even if credit score isn’t a problem, indebted African American households face higher interest rates, reporting an average APR of 17.7 percent on the card where they carry the greatest balance. For White households it’s 15.8 percent.

Despite this, African American respondents were less likely to moderate their card use as a result of higher rates, which suggested to the authors that Black households have less of a choice in staying afloat.

“It’s not surprising that the middle class relies on credit cards to get their expenses met,” says Nikitra Bailey, executive vice president of the Center for Responsible Lending. “When we think of the catastrophe caused by the Recession, most families didn’t have wealth resources necessary to fall back on. Our own reports show that the typical household only has about $100 left over every month after needs are met.”

The government stepped in in 2008 with the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act, which has helped at least a third of the African American respondents in the study pursue financial freedom. The CARD Act attempts to create a more equitable and less predatory credit climate for all Americans through billing transparency and plain-language credit terms and conditions.

“The CARD Act has been really useful and is working in the manner intended,” Bailey says. “What’s unique about the Act is that it provides transparency around credit bills without the bait-and-switch we saw before the act. Late fees have dropped more than half, and credit delinquency is the lowest it’s been since 1994.”

In its first year alone, the CARD Act halved the amount of late fees Americans paid, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Most Americans have noticed a warning on their bill about the consequences of making a late payment (77 percent of Americans), or only paying the minimum (70 percent).

Bailey believes that with support, these trends in greater credit debt management will result in restored homeownership, stronger communities, and a strong economy overall. The report makes similar assertions and offers both state and federal policy recommendations for fostering fairness in the credit industry, including an expansion of the CARD Act’s success.

“Too often people fall into the false narrative of African Americans that the wealth disparity is due to undisciplined spending habits, but if you look at the report you see that they’re using credit for basic living expenses,” Asante-Muhammad points out. “The problem isn’t around spending, the problem is income inequality, wealth inequality, and a decline in opportunity for middle class African Americans as a whole.”

HBCU's Presidents at a New Crossroad

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By Dianne Hayes
Special to the NNPA from The Westside Gazette

Only three months into the academic year and headlines have been littered with announcements about HBCU leadership turnover. There have been a plethora of reasons, including university presidents being fired, being encouraged to leave their posts by their boards of trustees or opting for retirement. Gone are the days of decades of top-down leadership, now replaced by a need for charismatic personalities who are well-skilled at fundraising while navigating internal needs and external stakeholders, as well as politics and long-standing traditions.

Harvey shares his 36 years worth of knowledge with other presidents during the annual Executive Leadership Summit held each November at Hampton. Harvey said 15 of his former university officers are now university presidents.

“I’ve had a lot of people who helped me,” Harvey said. “I try to share the lessons I’ve learned.”

Exiting leaders

While some may have seen the handwriting on the wall, others stepped down under arduous circumstances or planned for their next career move since the start of the 2013-14 academic year.

For example:

Tuskegee University : two weekends ago, the fall meeting of the Tuskegee University Board of Trustees was rocked by Dr. Gilbert L. Rochon resigning from his role as president. By the following Monday, Dr. Matthew Jenkins was posted on the university’s web-site as acting president. Rochon served three years.

Howard University: On Oct. 1, university President Dr. Sidney A. Ribeau abruptly stepped down after months of wrangling over the management and financial health of Howard University. Ribeau served five years and extended his tenure through December. His departure comes on the heels of a drop for the university in a major national ranking and a downgrade in its credit rating, as well as a 5 percent fall in enrollment.

Stillman College : On Sept. 6, one day after the fall convocation, the university announced that Stillman College President Ernest McNealey was removed from his position by the Board of Trustees. McNealey served as president since 1997. Despite his accomplishments, critics blamed him for enrollment declines, high employee turnover and poor relations with the business community.

Shaw University: In September, President Dorothy Cowser Yancy announced that she would retire after serving since 2011, when she was tapped to fill the post after former president Irma McClaurin resigned. She also served as interim president for 15 months prior to McClaurin and was credited with restructuring the school’s finances during that time.

Norfolk State University: In August, after a lengthy closed door session, Dr. Tony Atwater was fired by the Norfolk State Board of Visitors in a seven to four vote that took Atwater by surprise. Atwater described the news as “sudden and disappointing.” He served for two years with ten months remaining on his contract.

According to reports, the university’s accrediting agency had signaled trouble at the HBCU.

Wilberforce University Dr. Patricia A. Hardaway is slated to retire in December after serving as president since 2009.

The burning question that remains is about the fate of HBCUs and how to stop the trend that’s making it difficult for presidents to lead.

“If you look at the landscape now for all of us, it’s a tough landscape,” said Hampton University president, Dr. William R. Harvey. “There are a number of factors impacting all HBCUs, including the federal government debacle on the Parent Plus Loan situation, [and] support is down for Title III, which strengthens HBCUs. All of the support for HBCUs across the board is down. In addition, there are some institutions that don’t have enough students there.

“It’s a tough climate right now.”

New demands for HBCU presidents

The pride and traditions of HBCUs is a source of its strength and legacy, but navigating the gauntlet of closely held traditions while fulfilling the requirement to bring new life and resources to the university can be a daunting task for presidents.

Some describe it as a juggling act of trying to please too many masters, including boards of trustees who, at some institutions, have significant influence and demand compliance. Some presidents have operated in-dependently of boards until problems occur.

At one time, HBCU presidents served for lengthy tenures and not only were held in high regard but also wielded more power and influence. Today, with HBCUs closing and talks of mergers, disproportionate budget cuts, anemic enrollment figures, a financial aid crisis, inequitable federal research appropriations and the mere fact that gifted African-American students have many university options the expectations of the HBCU president are changing.

The new requirement for today’s HBCU president includes a personality and gift for raising money for the university while maintaining the traditional connection to faculty and students. A president is required to keep his/her finger on the pulse of the university’s life-line of recruitment, retention and graduation rates, as well as changing technology, including online education.

At Hampton University, Harvey has become among the rare breed of presidents who have successfully navigated a long-term presidency due in part to a symbiotic relationship with his board.

“The [university] president needs to understand that the board represents his or her bosses. You may be the CEO, but the board is your boss,” Harvey said. “The board needs to understand that their job is to make policy, not to implement the policy. Sometimes boards want to get involved in the implementation and that’s wrong.

“When people forget their roles, that’s when problems occur,” Harvey said.

Harvey attributes his success to mentors like Dr. Norman Francis at Xavier University in New Orleans and others who helped pave the way for him, and having entrepreneurial parents.

“When I came to Hampton, we couldn’t balance the bud-get,” said Harvey. “I traveled three and a half days a week for five years to raise money. Thirty-six years ago, we were not in the position we are today. We did something a lot of institutions weren’t doing, whether HBCU or not – we ran the university like a business. You bring in revenue on one side and manage expenses on the other.”

Harvey appealed to board members to let him institute entrepreneurial approaches to fundraising.

“I’ve had four chairs on my boards during my tenure,” he said. “They have been excellent and supportive. I take every-thing to the board – the good, the bad and the ugly. I have not always gotten my way be-cause I understand the role of the board, but I have not run the university in a vacuum. On a couple of instances, I’ve had to call board members to task on something because it was not their role.”

His advice to presidents is to “garner respect, use the team approach, engage alumni and faculty and get them to take ownership in your vision.”

Harvey, an entrepreneur who owns 100 percent of the Pepsi Cola Bottling Company of Houghton, Mich., has taken an innovative approach to managing resources at Hampton. Its investments include university-owned commercial development consisting of a shopping center and 246 two-bed-room apartments.

When Harvey arrived, the university’s endowment was $29 million. Now it exceeds $250 million. The university’s first capital fundraising campaign in 1979 had a goal of $30 million. That campaign raised $46.4 million. Its most recent campaign had a goal of $200 million and raised $264 million.

The politics of leadership

The cry for help was heard loud and long when Howard University trustee Renee Higginbotham-Brooks sent a letter with a dire warning that the Washington, D.C.-based institution “will not be here in three years” if “crucial decisions” are not made promptly. As vice chair of Howard’s governing board, she sent the letter on April 24, which was leaked to various news outlets.

“I can no longer sit quietly, notwithstanding my personal preference to avoid confrontation, and therefore, I am compelled to step forward to announce that our beloved university is in genuine trouble and ‘time is of the essence,’” Higginbotham-Brooks wrote. She called for a vote of no confidence in the board chairman and the university’s president.

Higginbotham-Brooks’ letter was unprecedented and, for some, seemed like a betrayal of airing HBCU dirty laundry, but to others it was a foreshadowing of what has begun to unravel.

Howard University’s decline in rankings in U.S. News and World Report and Moody’s downgrading its credit rating, and enrollment decreases due to changes to the Parent Plus Loan requirements, has created a perfect storm.

While Howard faces many of the same challenges as other HBCUs, the difference is its international reputation as “The Mecca” the “Black Ivy League” top-tier institution that draws students to the nation’s capital with its host of celebrity alumni.

Howard’s challenges have stirred conversations about the profile of a candidate who can bring money to the institution along with their credentials. Names have been thrown around, including Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., as a measure to garner significant financial contributions.

Camille and Bill Cosby’s $20 million gift to Spelman College 25 years ago during Johnetta B. Cole’s presidency continues to be one of the largest individual gifts ever given to an HBCU. Universities are faced with creating a new donor base.

Entertainment moguls Andre Young (Dr. Dre) and Jimmy lovine raised some eyebrows and criticism with their recent $70 million gift to the University of Southern California, instead of an HBCU. An anonymous donor established the Nasir Jones HipHop Fellowship at Harvard and insisted that the fellowship be named after the artist Nas.

Undoubtedly, fundraising is a significant part of the job description; however, the reality of fixing some of the areas that may be broken can come at a high price.

Former Alabama State University president, Dr. Joseph H. Silver, was fired after serving only three months for what some describe as challenging suspicious university financial information. According to his statement, “I discovered some items I considered questionable and troubling, at best, and a conflict of interest at the least.”

His allegations set off a controversial 36-page preliminary forensic audit report and investigation by state’s governor that is now underway.

Future for HBCU presidents

Historically Black colleges and universities continue to play a significant role in the college retention and graduation rates among African-American students. For example, HBCUs make up 3 percent of the nation’s colleges and universities but produce 50 percent of Black public school teachers, 80 percent of Black judges and 40 percent of baccalaureate degrees awarded to Black students in STEM fields.

While their role is still relevant, change may be required in how the institutions are governed to address the economic environment.

In an open letter, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous laments the closing of Saint Paul’s College and notes it as a warning for other HBCUs and the need for the federal government to revamp its funding and support for students. Jealous recommends that Congress increase funds for Pell Grants and permanently correct the Parent Plus Loan problem.

Caribbean Immigrants: The Rush to Become American Citizens

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By Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

As immigration reform efforts remain stymied by Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the rush by the foreign-born from the Caribbean and elsewhere to gain legal residence and ultimately citizenship has gathered steam.

Caribbean immigrants, led by people from the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Haiti, and Jamaica in that order account for a sizeable share, 15 per cent to be precise of the 757,434 residents from almost every United Nations member-state who changed their status surpassed the 100,000 mark, according to figures compiled by the Department of Homeland Security for the year 2012. By taking that momentous step, the West Indians and others earned the right to hold any job or elected position, except the presidency of the U.S.; to vote in federal, state and local government elections; don’t have to worry about a knock of the door in the dead of night; no longer be afraid of immigration authorities turning up on job with a pair of handcuffs; or be worried about being deported, except in extreme cases.

The Dominican Republic, which ironically took away its citizenship from as many as 200,000 Haitians who were born in the Spanish-speaking nation and lived there for all of their lives, saw 33, 351 of its own people became naturalized Americans last year. Between 2010 and last year, almost 70,000 Dominicans took on U.S. citizenship. At the same time, 23,490 Haitians whose birthplace shares the island of Hispaniola with Dominicans became American in 2012, joining more than 26,100 who took that decisive step in 2010-2011.

Jamaicans too changed their status from green card holders to citizens in droves. Last year, 15,531 immigrants from the English-speaking country became Americans, at least 1,000 more than in 2011 and 2,500 above the figure in 2010. Between 2010-2012, some 42,000 Jamaicans took the citizenship pledge, stated the Department of Homeland Security.

Sandwiched between the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica was Cuba. More than 31,000 Cubans stepped forward, raised their right hand and swore allegiance to the United States last year, bringing the total number of Cubans to 66,000 in the three year period.

Although the Department of Homeland Security didn’t provide specific figures for Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Suriname, St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent & the Grenadines, officials in Washington said that the combined total of naturalizations from those island-nations and coastal states amounted to at least 20,000.

The Caribbean immigration picture looked somewhat like this:

Last year more than 109,000 immigrants from the region received their naturalization papers from Washington; up from 79,820 the year before and 62,483 in 2010.

Between 2010 and 2012, the largest increase in naturalizations from North America and the Caribbean occurred among persons born in the Dominican Republic and Cuba.

Of the 10 leading countries for naturalizations, four were from the Caribbean in 2012 – the DR. Cuba, Haiti and Jamaica.

On average, Caribbean immigrants spent about seven years as legal permanent residents before becoming naturalized, compared with six years for immigrants from South America.

In 2003, Jamaican permanent resident immigrants in the United States totaled 13, 347 or two per cent of the 703,542 foreign born residents enjoying that status. By 2012, the amounted to 20,705, also 2 per cent of the global total which rose from 703,542 to more than 1 million.

Haiti has surpassed Jamaica as a major Caribbean source of immigrants in the U.S. A decade ago, Haitian permanent residents totaled 12,293 but by last year, the figure had skyrocketed to 22,818 out of more than one million.

Long-Term Unemployed Ignored in Budget Deal

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By Charles Ellison
Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune

The U.S. House of Representatives found itself doing something it didn’t think possible just weeks ago: it passed a budget.

Like that, Washington was awash in self-accolades. It wasn’t the best budget deal, with longtime observers expressing a bit of shock that members of Congress were actually finding a middle ground on something, but it was able to (at least for now) avoid the shutdown drama of two months ago. Businesses welcomed the deal as refreshing and sorely needed while the economy is still stuck in recovery mode.

“Approval of this agreement represents a return to more regular order for budget and appropriations issues,” said U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President for Government Affairs Bruce Josten. “Just as important, it allows the Congress to turn its attention to other pressing matters of national interest, such as immigration reform and trade policy.”

House and Senate negotiators somehow chiseled out a deal that not only replaced sequestration with targeted cuts, but also increased discretionary spending by a little less than .20 percent for a $1.014 trillion in fiscal year 2015.

And while the deal didn’t quite measure up to everyone’s expectations — with advocates on both sides of the aisle balking at a number of missed opportunities and what they saw as caving — it appeared it was something Congress could live with. By week’s end, the House had passed the new budget deal 332-94, with many taking note of House Speaker John Boehner’s willingness to let it happen while keeping his caucus from fracturing into the abyss as it did in October.

But with Boehner able to muster up enough House Republican votes to pass the deal, nearly three dozen Democrats found an opening to express their extreme displeasure over the absence of an unemployment benefits extension in the deal. Congress was able to give federal employees a long-desired 1 percent pay raise in the deal, but there was little political stomach for ensuring long term unemployment benefits didn’t expire on Dec. 28.

Even House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer bucked Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, giving an impassioned statement on the House floor as she was busily pulling together the caucus to go along and get along.

“It is unconscionable that the budget deal before us does not extend unemployment benefits,” bellowed Hoyer.

“Thankfully, we were able to beat back the worst proposals to further encroach on their benefits, and I believe this bipartisan deal will minimize the prospect of additional furloughs,” said Rep. George Connolly, among the 198 Democrats who voted for the deal.

Still, Connolly found himself in a conundrum, describing the deal as a “hold your nose and vote yes” vote.

The fact that more than 1.3 million Americans could find themselves without a financial lifeline at the end of December was bothering quite a few, with others scrambling to figure out a next step to keep that from happening. Long term unemployment is still high, despite the celebratory reaction of administration officials who were highlighting recent jobless numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing unemployment at its lowest in five years.

That still doesn’t negate the fact that Congress has never gone through with such an unusual, and what many advocates call a callous, step. For the past few years, Congress had been on the cusp of cutting long term unemployment extensions before, but somehow Democrats in the White House and on Capitol Hill stood firm.

This time, Pelosi was telling her fellow caucus members that it while they might be unhappy about it, cutting unemployment benefits for the benefit of a greater non-shutdown good was the lesser of two evils.

“If Congress fails to act, more than 86,000 Pennsylvanians who rely on emergency unemployment benefits to pay their mortgage, heat their homes and feed their families will lose their assistance three days after Christmas,” said Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who voted for the deal and sits on the House Budget Committee chaired by one of the deal’s authors, Rep. Paul Ryan. “Congress should not adjourn for the year until we pass an extension of long-term unemployment benefits.”

But, by week’s end, there was no sign from either side that a separate vote on extending unemployment benefits was in the works.

Ryan, however, was basking in the glory of an actual deal as he and his Senate counterpart Patty Murray felt it was the best they could get given the political circumstances. “We decided to focus on where there is common ground when negotiating the budget deal,” said Rep. Ryan on CNBC, also pushing back against conservatives who argued that the $23 billion in net deficit reduction doesn’t really amount to much at all. “This is a small but modest step in the right direction.”

“You can’t shoot for the moon every time.”

That was pretty much the general sentiment in Washington by week’s end, with lawmakers and advocates lining up to express their regret for the exclusion of a jobless benefits extension, yet still voting for the bill or calling it the best deal available.

“It is extremely unfortunate that the deal does not include an extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, especially since the package contains extra deficit reduction that is enough to almost fully offset the cost of a UI extension,” said Neera Tanden, president for the Center for American Progress.

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