Amid Unemployment Crisis, Senate Gridlock Leaves Jobs Bill in Limbo
Republicans Appear United in Opposition
WASHINGTON - This week, Senate Democrats will attempt to push through a jobs bill
that has stalled in the chamber for seven weeks. Majority Leader Harry
Reid (D-Nev.) filed for cloture on Monday afternoon, leaving just days
before a vote on the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act, or
House Resolution 4213, a $23 billion bill to extend federal
unemployment benefits and other emergency stimulus measures. The
cloture motion signals that Reid believes he has the votes to pass the
long-mired legislation. But there are still signs that the contentious,
job-saving bill might not pass - leaving people on unemployment
benefits, doctors and states in financial limbo.
Calling for an end to debate on the floor, Reid warned, "We'll
learn a lot this week about who wants to fix problems, and who wants to
make excuses." He castigated the opposition party's intransigence: "If
Republicans have their way, next week will be yet another without a
lifeline for the most needy, those willing and wanting to work. The
other side has slowed and stalled just about every piece of legislation
this year - just as they did last year and the year before that.
That's not a secret. The numbers don't lie, and Republicans make no
efforts to hide their strategy of delay."
What is at stake? If Congress does not pass the bill, hundreds of
thousands will lose their federally extended unemployment insurance.
Doctors will take a 21 percent cut in Medicare reimbursement rates,
possibly causing them to drop needy patients. Starting in December, the
federal government will provide less backing to the Federal Medical
Assistance Percentages program, or FMAP, which provides states with
money for Medicaid so that the "poorest of the poor," in Reid's words,
can see doctors.
The bill has broad support, but not broad enough. Reid needs a
Republican to cross the aisle to vote for the legislation, and needs to
hold the Democratic coalition together. As of Monday, that was not
happening. The floor debate was contentious - with Republicans bashing
what they view as Democrats' free spending, and Democrats detailing the
impact of job losses and the possible effect of Medicaid cuts in their
states. No Republicans have yet come out in favor of the bill, with
moderate Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine), Scott Brown (Mass.) and Susan
Collins (Maine) apparently remaining in opposition. Additionally, Sen.
Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) has signaled
that he might not vote for the bill as it ups deficit spending.
That means that Democrats might need to pare the bill down. And
changing it comes with its own problems. The Senate has altered the
House version enough that Congress will need to reconcile the versions
or the House will need to re-approve the bill. Differences between the
two might make that difficult: Moderate "Blue Dog" House Democrats, for
instance, successfully fought for the removal
of the $24 billion in Medicaid funding - which Reid hopes to keep
in. And every week that Congress does not approve the bill is another
week that thousands of the long-term unemployed go without unemployment
Against this backdrop of contentious fighting over deficit spending,
President Obama has renewed
calls for more stimulus to battle sky-high unemployment rates.
Fifteen million Americans - about 9.7 percent of the work force -
remain jobless. In a letter
to Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker
Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner
(R-Ohio), Obama called unemployment a "crisis" and asked the
congressional leaders to pass Medicaid funding as well as a new
provision to save local workers' jobs.
"I am concerned ... that the lingering economic damage left by the
financial crisis we inherited has left a mounting employment crisis at
the state and local level that could set back the pace of our economic
recovery," Obama wrote. "The lost jobs and foreclosed homes caused by
this financial crisis have led to a dramatic decline in revenues that
has provoked major cutbacks in critical services at the very time our
Nation's families need them most. ... [If] additional action is not taken
hundreds of thousands of additional jobs could be lost."
McConnell responded, "[B]ecause Democrats can't seem to resist any
opportunity to use a must-pass bill like this as a vehicle for more
deficit spending, they've piled tens of billions of dollars in
unrelated spending and debt on top of it, all at a moment when the
national debt has now reached $13 trillion for the first time in
history. This is fiscal recklessness, plain and simple."
Republicans last week released a counterproposal
to the Democrats' jobs bill. But it funds the new jobs bill out of
stimulus spending and forces across-the-board governmental budget cuts
(exempting defense spending). Democrats oppose the measure.