With many Americans still struggling to recover from a severe recession, more than one million long-term unemployed are starting to lose their jobless benefits, and Medicare doctors are dealing with a 21 percent pay cut.
They can thank Congress.
After two months of working on a bill that includes an array of corporate tax credits and expiring social programs – most notably the unemployment benefits and the so-called “doc fix” – Senate Democrats today sounded resigned to defeat ahead of a key procedural vote later today.
“We don’t have the commitments to start with, but we’re hoping for the best,” Majority Whip Dick Durbin said at a press conference today on Capitol Hill.
Why would the Senate strike down this bill yet again? Lawmakers’ reluctance to add to the soaring national debt.
Senate Democrats have already scaled back the cost of the $80 billion bill a few times, most recently late Wednesday night down to $35 billion. The latest incarnation slashed another $20 billion from the measure. Lawmakers cut $24 billion in Medicaid assistance to states by $8 billion and used spending cuts – including unexpended stimulus funds – to offset more costs.
But the $35 billion that would be added to the deficit is still too much red ink for the liking of Republicans, who have denounced it as the “debt extenders” bill.
“They will not pass a bill unless it adds to the debt,” the top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell said of Democrats earlier today on the Senate floor.
So in the latest sign of the gridlock on Capitol Hill, lawmakers appear poised to block the measure yet again. Republicans Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe and Scott Brown have sounded lukewarm on the bill, but none have committed to it – Brown, who has helped Democrats overcome filibusters on other measures this year, sounds like a surefire “no” vote.
“Why are they doing this? It’s beyond us,” Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said of Republicans. “[It’s] almost like they want to throw sand in the gears and just stop everything from happening, whether it hurts America or not.”
“They want everything to be Obama’s Waterloo,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. “They will not help him in spite of the fact that people in America are hurting really bad.”
“When there was a crisis on Wall Street everyone came together, worked in a bipartisan manner, and helped make sure that our financial system was secure,” observed Washington Democrat Patty Murray. “Today hundreds and hundreds of families across my state and across the country are waiting to see if this vote will bring people together to help them.”
But it’s not only Republicans who have opposed the bill – Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson has, too. And just last Friday, the Senate managed to pass the “doc fix” alone, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly shot down the abbreviated version as “inadequate” and vowed not to pass it until the upper chamber included jobs legislation in it.