After Thursday saw Republican senators vote against suspending debate on the 2010 Unemployment Extension Bill, effecting a successful filibuster, Senate Majority Leader attempted to push through provisions on Friday via standalone methods. Standalone votes only require a unanimous vote count for passage and are, of course, easier to accomplish than getting a 60-count majority vote, which is what the 2010 Unemployment Extension Bill required in its cloture vote. But, although the Senate was able to come to an agreement on and pass the provision that continued the suspension on the upcoming 21 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements for doctors, Fox News reported that they were again unable to agree on the unemployment benefits extension provision.
Republicans, including Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), object to the unemployment extension as it stands because they want it paid for before it is approved, thereby having little to no effect on the national debt. They also object to another plan which would pay for the extension via tax increases on corporations and small businesses. So, when the matter came up for a standalone vote, Senator Mitch McConnell objected.
But, he did not object to a standalone vote on the Medicare provision in the 2010 Unemployment Extension Bill. In what is considered a rare coming together of the two political parties, the provision extending the suspension of a 21 percent cut in doctor reimbursements through Medicare was approved and sent on to the House of Representatives for final approval. Fox News reported that the Medicare provision would be paid for with no additional expense to the taxpayer.
It seems that taxpayer expense has become the problem, or so Republicans across the board would have American voters believe. Of course, when Republicans controlled the purse-strings of Congress under the Bush administration, paying for programs at taxpayer expense and increasing the national deficit was simply a burden that had to be borne. With Democrats in control of both the House and Senate, fiscal responsibility, decreasing the national debt, and accountability to the taxpayer has become extremely important to Republicans, especially if it concerns programs of government assistance (which unemployment benefits become a part of when extended benefits are considered).
But, there is no pressing concern for compromise and finding a fix for the unemployed. The unemployment benefits extension will come at taxpayer expense, no matter what, unless something is cut somewhere else to fund the extension, or taxes are increased in some sector. The unemployed aren’t a special interest group, and they do not have a lobbying entity to push their cause, unlike the Medicare doctors.
The health care and pharmaceutical industry spends billions every year lobbying Congress. Utah’s senator Orrin Hatch’s ties with health care are well known, as are his dealings with pharmaceutical companies. Those ties, which are not required by law to be disclosed, like his association and affiliation with nonprofit groups like Utah Families Foundation, and those that are, like companies that contribute to election campaigns (often the same that contribute to politicians’ nonprofit affiliations, hire them as lecturers, etc.), are heavy incentives to get something done on the behalf of said contributors.
But, Orrin Hatch isn’t the only Republican (or Democrat for that matter, but only one Democrat voted for the continuance of debate on the 2010 Unemployment Extension Bill — all 38 Republicans that voted did so without one dissenting vote) with a health care incentive. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s leading campaign and PAC (political action committee) contributor for the last five years, according to OpenSecrets.org, is Kindred Healthcare. With two of the most powerful Republican senators on Capitol Hill pushing for compromise on a measure that the majority of Democrats want as well, it is easy to see how a standalone vote for the Medicare provision could get accepted as a standalone, and then passed.
Fiscal responsibility and taxpayer accountability? Hardly. It is all a matter of incentive.
But, the unemployed — by virtue of their jobless state — cannot afford to contribute to a senator’s campaign committee, or hire a lobbyist to promote their agenda. And, while millions of former American taxpayers, those now filling the ranks of the unemployed and unable to find work, wait and wonder how long it might be before or even if a benefits extension bill is passed, a couple of Republicans will wait on a Democratic-orchestrated compromise or deal that will benefit them or their constituency (or both) before they agree to help pass an extension bill for 2010.
It is all about incentive.