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Fiscal Cliff Unemployment Limbo Makes Americans Feel 'Like They're Playing Games' In Congress

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FISCAL CLIFF UNEMPLOYMENT
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., left, and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., turn to leave a news conference where they discussed the fiscal cliff, Friday, Dec. 28, 2012, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) | AP

WASHINGTON -- Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on Thursday that Americans are paying unusually close attention to the fiscal cliff debate in Congress.

"I’ve never seen a public as energized or as knowledgeable about an issue as they are about the fiscal cliff," Hoyer said. "They know it will have a negative impact on the economy and they know it will have a negative impact on them and their families."

That's certainly the case for Debi Ogg of Tulsa, Okla. Ogg lost her job handling collections for an electric company in May. Her state-funded unemployment insurance lasted until the beginning of December, and then Ogg switched over to federal benefits, which are supposed to last 14 weeks in Oklahoma. But when Ogg filed her weekly claim earlier this month, she was told she would not receive 14 weeks after all.

"That was the first I knew of it," Ogg said. "And then about two weeks after that, we got a letter saying there would be no more benefits after Dec. 29."

Now Ogg is paying close attention to Congress. She is one of more than 2 million Americans the National Employment Law Project estimates will stop receiving benefits after Saturday, when federal unemployment benefits will almost certainly go away because Congress has not reauthorized them. Democrats have demanded that the benefits be included in a deal to avert the fiscal cliff's simultaneous tax hikes and spending cuts, but party leaders have not been able to find a compromise with Republicans.

Members of both parties do agree that everyone should be mad at them. "The American people have a right to be very upset with this Congress," Hoyer said Thursday.

"I think every American should be disgusted with all of Washington," Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said on Friday.

Dozens of unemployed Americans have expressed disgust with inaction on the fiscal cliff situation in emails and phone calls with HuffPost over the past month. In interviews, they explained how a fiscal cliff failure might affect them.

"It's like they’re playing games," Debbie Plante said of Congress in an interview. The 50-year-old Warwick, R.I., resident said she lost her medical billing job last year.

"I understand a lot of this stuff is important, but I don’t think they’re really taking a look at what’s going on with these families," Plante said. "I don't even know if I will have a place to live next month. I'm very angry at Congress right now over all of this."

Maureen Mower of Archbald, Pa., said she's had temp work on and off since losing her job handling customer service and sales for a beverage facility earlier this year. She's currently in a temp position doing office work, but if it ends soon she would have to restart her previous state unemployment claim -- and it only has a few weeks of benefits remaining.

"If Congress does not extend federal unemployment benefits, our family -- which includes my husband who is battling cancer -- will be in a financial hole once again," Mower, 51, said in an email.

"I think it's ridiculous," she said of the apparent fiscal cliff stalemate. "I've never seen such a collection of children in my life. This is the future of the country, not to mention the welfare of people like myself and my husband, and they’re playing political games."

Ogg, 60, said lawmakers seem indifferent to the practical impact the fiscal cliff is already having on some people.

"I think they could have made their decision a long time ago, but it's just a power-play type of thing," Ogg said. "I think they’ve lost touch with how it affects people getting up and going to the grocery store, or sitting down to pay their bills."

Ogg said she bought Christmas presents this year for her grandchildren, but not for their parents or her own parents. "Everybody fully understood," she said.

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