Deal on Payroll Tax/UI Bill to Get Vote Within Days

For legislators, too? (photo: micahb37/flickr)

Negotiators say they have a deal on a $150 billion bill to extend the payroll tax cut, some unemployment insurance benefits and the “doc fix” to the end of the year, a bill that will sacrifice some health care prevention money, several weeks of unemployment eligibility, and at the very end, pension contributions for new federal employees:

A key roadblock was overcome when the lawmakers agreed to require new federal workers to contribute more to their pension plans, clearing the way around 12:30 a.m. for a majority of the House-Senate conference committee to begin signing onto the deal.

The pension provision represented a concession to key Maryland Democrats who, even after prodding from President Obama, did not grant their support until current federal workers were shielded from the new pension plan, aides in both parties said.

A vote could come as early as Friday, the last act in a five-month battle over Obama’s proposed jobs plan.

The deal was done through the conference committee, which means they will deliver a non-amendable report to each chamber of Congress for a vote. That vote could take place as early as Friday, with the expectation that the House and Senate could pass it and get out of town for the President’s Day recess. The deal may not get a vote until Saturday, however, because of the way in which the House must post bills publicly for a period of time, per their new rules.

As stated previously, the bill would reduce the maximum weeks of unemployment benefits gradually throughout the year, down to 63 weeks for most states, and 73 weeks for hardest-hit states with over a 9% unemployment rate.  [cont’d.]

There are $50 billion worth of offsets in the $150 billion bill, as the extension of the payroll tax cut is unfunded. The doc fix, around $20 billion is funded by health care cuts, including a $5 billion cut to the Health Care Prevention Fund, a fund intended to be dedicated to disease prevention. One of the alleged kickbacks in the health care law, a measure for Louisiana that would increase Medicaid coverage for victims of Hurricane Katrina in the state, has also been wiped out. There are also reduced payments to hospitals for some procedures in the bill.

The $30 billion for the unemployment benefits extension is funded by a $15 billion sale of wireless spectrum and the changes to pension benefits for new federal employees, which will raise $15 billion over ten years.

Some other parts of the bill from the New York Times:

Under the agreement, states will be allowed to conduct drug testing for anyone who lost a job because the person failed or refused to take an employer’s drug test, and they could test anyone seeking a job that generally requires such a test, a provision similar to existing law […]

The agreement extends the nation’s main welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, through the current fiscal year. States will have to prevent welfare recipients from using electronic benefit cards at liquor stores, casinos and strip clubs.

I call that the “humiliate the poor” section of the bill.

This probably closes the book on the American Jobs Act, incidentally, which the President announced in September and which included a payroll tax cut and extending unemployment benefits as major features. All told, about $150-$160 billion of the $450 billion proposal will end up getting passed (the doc fix was not part of the AJA, but you have to add in a portion of the $30 billion two-month extension from December). That’s arguably more than many observers expected, and $100 billion of it was not even offset. So in macro terms, this avoids a bad circumstance for the economy. The details are a bit more unsettling.

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