Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Extenders In Jeopardy

Leaders in both the House and the Senate are threatening to keep their bodies in session through the Memorial Day recess, in spite of members desire to travel home to their respective districts now for holiday parades and rallies. Nevertheless, it looks like the proposed legislation extending unemployment and COBRA benefits, along with Bush era tax breaks for individuals and small businesses, and Medicare payment levels for physicians, is doomed. Neither House nor Senate leaders have the votes to pass the proposed extenders through year end, because of the cost to the federal government. While the House could probably pass a three month extension, even that short relief appears to fall flat in the Senate, leaving those still looking for work whose benefits have already run out, or will run out soon, with little hope of further relief.

Senators and Congressmen who face tough reelection battles have added a number of revenue raising measures to the extender proposal, including an increase in oil excise taxes from eight cents to 32 cents per barrel, limits on corporate use of foreign tax credits, and a 157% increase in the tax rate venture capitalists pay on “carried interest” earnings. Business lobby protests over these tax increases could scuttle the entire benefits extension package. In addition to extension of benefits for the jobless, the bill also includes $24 billion in assistance to state governments with serious budget deficits, $6 billion to fund summer job programs for young people, and $65 billion to postpone pay cuts for doctors treating Medicare patients.

Fiscal discipline went out the window when the Obama administration wanted to stimulate the economy and pay for nearly universal health care benefits, but now that midterm elections are approaching it seems like Congress is completely willing to try balancing the federal budget on the backs of those who have still been left behind by the effects of the stimulus measures.
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