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US Budget Woes Put Teachers, Emergency Responders on Chopping Block

Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference urging the passage of the Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act,  Oct. 19, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference urging the passage of the Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act, Oct. 19, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

A proposal to send federal assistance to cash-strapped local governments across America has been defeated in the U.S. Senate, 50 to 50, short of the 60 votes needed for passage. The measure would have provided $35 billion to keep teachers, police officers, and fire fighters on payrolls as cities and counties grapple with continued budget shortfalls. The spending would have been offset by a slight boost in taxes paid by millionaires.

They teach American kids, fight crime on America’s streets, and respond to tragedy and disaster.  Their numbers are decreasing nationwide, as counties and cities grapple with lower tax revenues.

A large contingent of teachers, police officers, and firefighters came to the Capitol this week with a message for lawmakers debating aid to local communities.

Among them: laid-off Florida high-school teacher Cherine Akbari, who risks losing her home, but is more worried about her pupils. “Students absolutely are the ones who suffer.  It is not just me, it is not just about my job.”

Connecticut police officer Jennifer Pierce says cuts in law enforcement will leave communities unprotected. “If we do not get the officers we need, obviously there will be less patrol presence on the street, crime rates are going to go up, as we have already seen.  Burglaries are up, street robberies are up,” Pierce said.

The rally had a surprise speaker. Vice President Joseph Biden said budget cuts - even temporary ones - bring lasting consequences. “There is nothing temporary about kindergarten being eliminated, because it has an effect on a child for the rest of their life.  There is nothing temporary about the life saved in a home invasion or a robbery because a squad car is able to get there in five minutes and not in 30.  There is nothing temporary about that for real, live people,” Biden said.

President Barack Obama’s $476 billion jobs plan was defeated on Capitol Hill last week.  Undeterred, Democratic lawmakers are forcing votes on the plan’s individual components, starting with federal assistance to cash-strapped communities.

But Republicans oppose using federal funds to prop up local governments.

“Bailouts do not solve the problem. In fact, they perpetuate it,” saidSenate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell argues President Obama’s $800 billion stimulus plan failed to improve America’s jobs picture in 2009, and spending even more now makes no sense.

“Again and again, the president has demanded that Congress do something that creates jobs.  And the only thing we seem to end up with at the end of the day is more debt, more government, and fewer jobs,” McConnell said.

Republicans are united in opposing tax hikes on the wealthy to fund federal jobs programs. “Job-killing tax increases are the wrong medicine for our struggling economy,” said Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona.

Instead, Republicans urge deep spending cuts to improve the nation’s fiscal health, and economic deregulation to unchain America’s entrepreneurs.

Unions representing teachers and emergency responders are appealing to the American public through advertisements.

One advertisment said “The economic crisis is crippling public safety. Hey, Congress, we may be just kids, but right now we need help, too. Our school days are being cut.”

And President Obama is keeping up the pressure, as well. “We need to put people to work right now.  I think most Americans understand that,” he said.

A recent poll showed 76 percent of Americans favor federal efforts to save local government jobs.

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