Monday, June 21, 2010

Unemployed Still Waiting

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) slammed Republicans on Friday for the Senate's failure to pass an urgent jobs bill.
"The House has repeatedly sent jobs-creating bills to the Senate since December -- Build America Bonds, small business hiring incentives, and importantly, summer jobs -- and yet Republicans continue to block approval of jobs legislation," said Pelosi in a statement. "What is it that Republicans in the Senate and House don't understand about the need for jobs in America?"

At the end of May, the House approved a bill to provide tax breaks for individuals and businesses and to reauthorize several domestic aid programs, including extended unemployment benefits and the so-called "Doc Fix," which protects doctors who see Medicare patients from a 21 percent pay cut. The Senate has been unable to pass the bill because of deficit concerns, and extended unemployment benefits and Doc Fix have both expired, affecting hundreds of thousands of people across the country.

On Friday, Senate leaders congratulated each other profusely after agreeing to spending offsets to preserve Doc Fix for six months without adding to the deficit, but it was too late: Moments later, Medicare announced that after holding off for weeks, it would begin processing June claims at the reduced rate.

The American Medical Association, a physicians' lobbying group, says that some doctors are already shunning Medicare patients because of uncertainties about compensation, and the AARP says its members have reported trouble finding doctors specifically because of the current lapse in Doc Fix.

It's not just Republicans, but conservative Democrats in both chambers who are standing in the way of the jobs legislation. After monthly jobs reports have shown modest gains, conservative Democrats have lost their appetites for fighting the jobs crisis if doing so adds to the deficit, and party leaders apparently have no choice but to try to appease them. 

Since June 1, federally-funded extended unemployment benefits for people who've been out of work for longer than six months have been phasing out. So far, 903,000 people have prematurely lost access to the extra weeks of benefits, which were originally provided by the stimulus bill. By Friday, that number will climb to 1.2 million. 



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