Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Bunning Wins and Loses on Unemployment Extension Bill

Kentucky Republican Senator Jim Bunning said Tuesday evening he and Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid have agreed to a deal that will allow passage of the unemployment extension bill, which also extended "COBRA health benefits, keep doctors who serve Medicare patients from getting a pay cut, give rural satellite TV subscribers access to network television and provide highway funding."

Bunning was the lone holdout to a unanimous vote asked for by Reid when the bill was introduced last Wednesday. Once a unanimous vote was called, the voting method could not be changed to something more convenient; Harry chained himself to a unanimous outcome and lost.
Reporting tonight, ABC News painted Bunning as relenting "and will no longer continue to block a vote on a bill..." that should have also contained offsets to the $10 billion authorized to continue unemployment benefits.

Tuesday evening, he struck an agreement with Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid to allow a vote on the unemployment extension bill later this evening. The bill is expected to pass overwhelmingly.

Under the deal, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed to allow a vote on a measure to off-set the bill's $10 billion cost with cuts in other programs. However, the off-set measure is expected to fail, and the unemployment extension bill will not be paid for afterall.
The Hill writes,

Democratic leaders said extensions of unemployment insurance and COBRA healthcare benefits should be emergency spending that isn’t subject to the pay-as-you-go statute, which requires new non-discretionary spending to be offset with spending cuts or tax increases.

This year, facing record deficits and a debt that has exceeded $12 trillion, Democrats touted the new pay-go requirements as a necessary step to get spending under wraps. President Barack Obama signed the pay-go bill into law on Feb. 12 and Democrats are ready to waive those requirements to help get the economy going.

“Assistance to unemployed workers during periods of high unemployment are always classified as emergencies,” a House Democratic leadership aide said.
PAYGO was not supposed to be used on discretionary spending which is how entitlements, benefits, and compensations are defined. Emergency spending which is outside predictable spending budgets are exempt from PAYGO. The Dept. of Political Science at Auburn University, Auburn, AL. explains entitlement programs this way,

The kind of government program that provides individuals with personal financial benefits (or sometimes special government-provided goods or services) to which an indefinite (but usually rather large) number of potential beneficiaries have a legal right (enforceable in court, if necessary) whenever they meet eligibility conditions that are specified by the standing law that authorizes the program. The beneficiaries of entitlement programs are normally individual citizens or residents, but sometimes organizations such as business corporations, local governments, or even political parties may have similar special "entitlements" under certain programs. The most important examples of entitlement programs at the federal level in the United States would include Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, most Veterans' Administration programs, federal employee and military retirement plans, unemployment compensation, food stamps, and agricultural price support programs.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities writing on the pay-as-you-go rule March 5, 2009, says,

The pay-as-you-go rule, also known as PAYGO, is designed to encourage
Congress to offset the cost of any legislation that increases spending
on entitlement programs or reduces revenues so it doesn’t expand the
deficit. Under PAYGO, Congress must pay for such legislation by reducing
other entitlement spending or increasing other revenues.

Congress can, however, waive PAYGO for a particular bill with the support
of 60 senators and the majority of the House. Also,
PAYGO does not
apply to discretionary programs (the programs Congress funds each year through the appropriations process),
which are limited instead by the
annual spending targets set in congressional budget plans.
Harry Reid is in violation of the PAYGO rule signed into law by Obama Feb. 12, 2010. Although tonight Reid has agreed to Bunning's request to provide the required tax offsets, Reid has also arranged for the offsets vote to be defeated by the Senate Democrat majority.

Senator Bunning entered into an agreement with majority Democrat leadership to follow the very rule the majority Democrats wanted, and now he is to be stabbed in the back by the majority Democrats. "Beware the ides of March" was the warning given Julius Caesar before he was murdered on the steps of the Roman Senate and the warning holds true today for Senator Bunning and the Republicans, albeit only symbolically.

The bill passed by a 78-19 vote Tuesday night.

The life of Indigo Red is full of adventure. Tune in next time for the Further Adventures of Indigo Red.

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