The Long and Winding Road: More Twists and Turns for the Extenders Bill
For weeks, Congress has been re-tooling and re-tooling the extenders bill (HR 4213), looking for 60 votes to pass. Two things have held constant: lawmakers have been unwilling to enact the bills, and lawmakers have not offset the costs. Of course, the two are related. The newest Senate bill, released on Thursday, trims the gross cost and deficit impact to $103 billion and $27 billion, respectively, from $118 billion and $55 billion.
The newest one saves money by scaling back the extension of increased Medicaid matching for states, cutting stimulus-increased food stamp payments in 2014, and eliminating the advanced Earned Income Tax Credit. This comes after the Senate already scaled back its original bill by decreasing unemployment benefits and cutting short the doc fix. A summary of the now six versions of this bill is below.
|Version of Tax Extenders/Safety Net Bill (H.R. 4213)|
|Doc Fix||Patched through 2013||Patched through 2011||Patched through 2011||Patched through 2011||Patched through November||Dropped*|
|Unemployment Benefits||Extended through 2010||Extended through November||Extended through November||Extended through November||
Extended through November (but eliminates extra $25/week enacted through the 2009 stimulus)
|Extended through November (but eliminates extra $25/week enacted through the 2009 stimulus)|
|COBRA Benefits||Extended through 2010||Extended through November||Dropped||Dropped||Dropped||Dropped|
|Medicaid Matches to States||6 month extension||6 month extension||Dropped||6 month extension||6 month extension||Shortened extension|
*The doc fix was passed separately by both Houses in HR 3962 and is going to the president's desk to be signed, so it isn't counted here in the bill. The CBO includes the doc fix in its most recent cost estimate of HR 4213, adding about $6 billion to the gross cost and deficit impact.
The good thing about this extenders bill is that some of the cost reductions come from real cuts, not just omissions. The food stamp benefit reductions and the elimination of the advanced EITC represent legitimate cutbacks (the latter being on President Obama's hitlist for the last two budgets.) But even with these scalebacks, those two constants are still there. This bill will still add to the deficit, and the Senate fell three votes short of getting the bill passed.
It's time that lawmakers finally got the will to pay for the bill. Obviously, repeated scalebacks are not convincing the moderate on-the-fence voters to support it, and using omissions rather than real cuts makes the bill fiscally irresponsible anyways. The Senate should go back to the drawing board and create some offsets.
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