March 11, 2010
Senate extends benefits for unemployed: $138B bill supports Medicare, tax breaks
WASHINGTON — After months of wrangling, the Senate on Wednesday approved a $138 billion spending bill that would extend jobless benefits, help the states pay for Medicare and extend a bundle of tax measures designed to stimulate the economy.
The measure also extends tax cuts for college tuition, the program that helps laid-off workers keep their job-based health insurance, and tax breaks for research and development that has long been important to the nation's high-tech industries.
In addition, it delays a threatened 21 percent cutback in the payments doctors receive for treating Medicare patients.
The rare bipartisan vote was 62 to 36.
Some experts hailed the measure as an important stimulus.
"We're starting to talk real money," said Chad Stone, chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal research group.
Republicans lambasted the Democrats on spending — and late last month, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., blocked a short-term extension of some of the programs, forcing some to lapse. But the measure was approved with six Republicans voting yes and one Democrat, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, voting no.
The Republicans who voted for the bill were Christopher Bond, R-Mo., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska., Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, David Vitter, R-La., and George Voinovich, R-Ohio.
The bill includes $25 billion in new Medicaid funds to help financially hard-pressed states pay for health care for the poor. States received a funding boost in the economic-stimulus bill passed last year. The new legislation would extend the funding through mid-2011.
The bill provides additional unemployment benefits for people out of work. In hard-hit states, workers could qualify for up to 99 weeks of aid. The higher a state's jobless rate, the more benefits a laid-off worker could receive. The cost is estimated at $70 billion over 10 years.
The bill also extends at a cost of $11 billion over 10 years the government subsidy for health-care coverage for laid-off workers.
It remains unclear whether the House will take up the Senate version or turn the two versions over to a House-Senate conference committee.
Congress still has passed no major job-creation legislation this year, despite pleas from President Obama and leading congressional Democrats to move quickly.
Still stalled is a separate $17.5 billion plan that includes tax breaks for small businesses that hire new workers. The Senate might consider that bill later this week.
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