As U.S. senators began casting votes on the much-debated debt-ceiling legislation that passed the House yesterday, more than a dozen angry protesters demonstrated outside the district office of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, arguing that the Tea Party Republican is part of the reason why the debt-limit bill is all cuts and no new revenues.
"Folks like Pat Toomey need to be called out," said Dave Ninehouser, the Pittsburgh coordinator for PA Wants to Work, an economic justice organization affiliated with the AFL-CIO. "The Tea Party is so hungry for power that they held the economy hostage to attack social security and Medicare."
Gathered outside of Toomey's Station Square office building, protesters hoisted signs -- "Stop Corporate Greed," read one -- and recited chants such as, "No tea for me, please, we need jobs" and "Hands off Medicare, hands off social security."
The demonstration coincided with this afternoon's U.S. Senate vote to raise the nation's debt limit, avoiding a much-feared default. The bill, approved by the Senate by a vote of 74 to 26, includes more than $2 trillion in cuts over the next decade.
During weeks of negotiations, President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress lobbied for increasing federal revenues by closing corporate tax loopholes. But Tea Party Republicans, including Toomey, refused to compromise on tax increases.
Although protesters today were relieved that the country avoided defaulting on its debt, they were frustrated that the final deal leaves tax loopholes wide open. They also expressed concern that a bipartisan committee the bill creates could eventually recommend gutting programs like Medicare.
"We need to cut [tax] loopholes," Liz Kovacs, 61, of Franklin Park, told City Paper during the protest. "Refusing to allow any increase in revenues is just ridiculous."
"No one is looking for more revenues," added Frank Cooper, 66, of McCandless, visibly frustrated by the unwillingness of Toomey and other Tea Party Republicans to consider reforming taxes.
Toomey, who protesters called a "champion" of the Tea Party, voted against the debt-ceiling bill. In a statement issued yesterday, the Republican Senator said he could not support the legislation because it didn't include enough cuts.
The bill "does nothing to deal with the path of our government's unsustainable deficit spending," Toomey's statement read. "For fiscal year 2012, this legislation will only cut two-tenths of 1 percent of total spending. Not only will our debt grow each year under this plan, it will continue to grow even as a percentage of our economy."
Toomey's reasoning didn't go over well with protesters.
"A lot of hardcore zealots like Toomey are saying we need more cuts," said Ninehouser. "The American people are overwhelmingly against that."
Ninehouser and other protesters said they would have liked to have seen Obama and Congressional Democrats put up a stronger fight for closing corporate tax loopholes, but they acknowledged Democrats' hands were tied by Republicans who simply refused to budge on the issue. And with default looming, protesters added, a compromise had to be reached.
While today's protest was intended to send a message to Toomey and the Tea Party, Ninehouser said it was also intended to send a clear message to the American people.
"Be careful who you vote for," he said. "When you vote for crazy, you get crazy."