The Senate on Wednesday rejected a proposal by President Barack Obama to give people on Social Security a $250 bonus check.
Republicans and Democratic deficit hawks combined to reject the idea by a 50-47 vote. The plan, offered in the Senate by Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., would have added $14 billion to the out-of-control budget deficit.
The vote came as the Senate debated a $100 billion-plus measure to extend unemployment assistance, revive a bevy of popular but expired tax breaks, help states with soaring Medicaid costs and prevent doctors from having to absorb big cuts in Medicare payments.
The costly measure follows passage Tuesday of a stopgap $10 billion measure to fund several of the same programs through the end of the month.
The daunting price tag on the measure guarantees more complications and an even rougher path through the Senate than experienced by the bill passed Tuesday.
The full-year measure blends $66 billion for unemployment benefits for people who have been out of work longer than 26 weeks with $29 billion for Medicaid help to state governments and health insurance subsidies for the jobless. There's also $26 billion for expiring tax breaks such as an income tax deduction for sales and property taxes and a business tax credit for research and development.
The measure closes $29 billion worth of tax loopholes to help defray its cost, including one enjoyed by paper companies that get a credit from burning a pulp-making byproduct known as "black liquor," as if it were an alternative fuel.
All told, the measure would add $107 billion to the deficit over the coming decade. Democrats have labeled most of the bill an emergency measure, exempting it from stricter budget rules enacted just last month.
Also Wednesday, the Senate rejected a procedural manuever by freshman Sen. George Lemieux, R-Fla., that sought to force the entire bill to be paid for in subsequent legislation so as not to add to the deficit.
"What a commonsense idea to bring to Washington and the United States Congress — that we pay for the programs that we spend," Lemieux said.
But powerful Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus countered that Lemieux's move would actually have killed the measure and every Democrat, along with Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins voted to keep the measure on track on a 60-37 vote that just barely reached the supermajority threshhold needed under Senate rules.
Although the government faces a projected record $1.6 trillion deficit for the current budget year, many senators have an appetite for more spending. In addition to the Social Security proposal, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., wants $1.5 billion for "youth activities," including summer jobs.
Sanders said the $250 Social Security payment was needed to make up for the lack of a cost-of-living adjustment this year for beneficiaries. Disabled people and veterans also would have been eligible for the payments.
Seniors received an identical $250 bonus last year as part of the economic stimulus bill.
But economists say the payments don't do much to boost the economy since many seniors simply save the money rather than spend it.
The stopgap bill that passed Tuesday had been held up for days by GOP Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky, causing the government to furlough highway workers and allowing some unemployment benefits to expire.
But his move sparked a political tempest that subjected Republicans to withering media coverage and cost the party politically, and Bunning ultimately relented.
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