Democratic leaders in the Senate have apparently failed to win
enough support to overcome a Republican filibuster of a bill to help
the poor, the old and the jobless, despite making a series of cuts to
the measure over the past several weeks to appease deficit hawks.
"It looks like we're going to come up short," said a senior
Democratic aide on Wednesday evening. "It looks like Republicans are
prepared to kill aid to states, an extension of unemployment benefits,
and ironically, the Republicans are prepared to kill efforts to close
loopholes that allow companies to export jobs overseas."
The legislation, known as the "tax extenders" bill, would
reauthorize extended unemployment benefits for people out of work for
six months or longer, would protect doctors from a 21 percent pay cut
for seeing Medicare patients, and would provide billions in aid to
state Medicaid programs.
Come Friday, 1.2 million people will lose access to the extended
unemployment benefits, a number that will grow by several hundred
thousand every week after that. Fifty million Medicare claims from June
are currently in process at the reduced rate, which the AARP says has
already caused some of its members to have trouble finding a doctor.
And the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that dropping the $24 billion in aid to states will cause 900,000 public- and private-sector layoffs in 2011.
Both chambers of Congress had already passed the measure, deficit
spending and all, but when it came time to combine the bills in May,
conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans lost their previous
will to help the economy and forced party leaders to begin the
nickel-and-dime process of trimming the bill.
"I've never been involved in anything that's been revised so often
and in so many different ways," said Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who
worked with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to try to win
support for the bill.
The House shortened the Medicare physicians' fix, dropped the
Medicaid money, and also $7 billion in subsidies for laid off workers
to buy health insurance. The Senate cut $25 per week from every
unemployment check and shortened the so-called "Doc Fix" even further,
to six months, and on Wednesday Dem leaders trimmed another $8 billion
by reducing the Medicaid assistance. The bill has shrunk over the past
few weeks from $190 billion, to $80 billion, to $55 billion, to just
over $30 billion in the current Senate version.
"Sen. Baucus and Sen. Reid did everything they can to try to pick up
the handful of votes needed to overcome the Republican filibuster" said
the Dem aide. Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson has said repeatedly he would
not vote for the measure unless its cost was completely offset, so Reid
and Baucus focused on moderate Maine Republicans Susan Collins and
Olympia Snowe, who demanded more cuts to the bill, apparently, than the
Dem leaders were willing to make.
"Remember, Republicans voted for legislation that both extended
unemployment insurance and reduced the deficit," said Don Stewart, a
spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
"Democrats, on the other hand, introduced and voted for legislation
that increased the deficit. There was bipartisan support for ours,
bipartisan opposition for theirs."
The Republican alternative to the tax extenders bill, which Ben
Nelson supported, would have extended unemployment benefits and offset
the cost with budget cuts so steep it "would essentially shut down much
of the federal government for the last two and a half months of this
fiscal year," according to the CBPP.
Democrats also softened a provision that would raise taxes on
investment fund managers by closing a loophole that allows some of the
richest people in the world to pay a lower tax rate than their
secretaries. The debate has largely focused on the deficit, however.
The process has been infuriating to employment and labor activists.
"Let Senator McConnell, let Senator Senator Collins, let Senator
Brown and every other Republican explain why one of their own
constituents doesn't deserve to keep their job, shouldn't be able to
send their kid to college, can't put food on their table without maxing
out their credit cards," said Lori Lodes of the SEIU. "Rooting against
America, Republicans are taking pride in keeping families out of work
as their only strategy for winning elections."
The Senate will vote on Thursday or Friday.