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Old 09-24-2009, 11:46 AM  
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Dems Push For A $4 billion bailout for the Postal Service?

Democrats moved Thursday to give special relief to the financially strapped Postal Service, which would be allowed to defer $4 billion in payments due at the end of this month to cover retirement benefits for its employees.


Republicans protested the bailout but made no significant effort to block the provision, which has now been attached to a stop-gap spending bill slated to come before the House and Senate in the next week.

Proponents of the language argued that the House has previously endorsed equivalent relief for the Postal Service, which faces a $5.4 billion payment to the retirement fund at the end of this month. House and Senate Appropriations Committee staff said the language now would reduce that payment to $1.4 billion, helping the Postal Service deal with its cash problems but also exposing the government at least temporarily to the $4 billion difference.


This potential impact on taxpayers is controversial, and the whole handling of the issue is seen by many as a parliamentary sleight-of-hand.


With little public warning, the language has now been attached to a must-pass spending bill to keep the government funded for the first month of the new fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. To further shield that resolution from amendments on the floor, the House and Senate Appropriations negotiators voted Thursday to wrap it into an otherwise non-controversial $4.65 billion budget bill covering the operations of the Capitol and such agencies as the Library of Congress.


This conference report can now be brought back to the House and Senate floor with special privileges that help avoid amendments.


House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) pointed to fact that Republicans had used a similar ploy three years ago when they were in power and insisted he had been upfront about the tactics in a public meeting. But his ranking Republican, Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, said the whole strategy was “one of the most cynical legislative maneuvers I’ve ever seen.”


On a 7-4 vote, House negotiators rejected an effort by Lewis to strike the proposed CR from the conference report on the legislative bill. But despite the cost, neither House nor Senate Republicans in the talks made any direct effort to target the Postal provision.


The action came as House Democrats were poised to move Thursday on a second front, calling up hastily drafted legislation to freeze Medicare Part B premiums for the coming year.


Costs estimates run between $1.4 billion and $2.8 billion to be offset by savings elsewhere from a Medicare Improvement Fund. And Democrats hope to defuse what would otherwise be an October surprise for health care reform — threatened cuts in Social Security checks for millions of elderly.


The origins of the crisis have little to do with the current health care reform debate, but the timing could not be worse.

Without some intervention by Congress, Medicare is slated to announce next month increased Part B premiums, which are typically deducted from a retiree’s Social Security check to help pay for physician services. This would be a routine event but for an unusual combination of circumstances this year that could result in some seniors being asked to pay as much as 14 percent more than their current premiums.


For those impacted, that increase could mean a real cut in their Social Security checks next year, since retirees aren’t expected to get a cost-of-living increase in January given the drop in the consumer price index this year.


For Democrats, who hope to be on the House and Senate floors with health care legislation next month, this would be a political nightmare. And in the rush to find some solution, the party leadership opted to protect even upper-income households, who represent about a fifth of those most affected.


“We’re helping everybody. Democrats have a broad tent,” said Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), one of the principal authors.


Republicans appear open to the Medicare relief but have been fighting among themselves over what to do about current federal highway program due to expire at the end of the month.


In debate Wednesday, Democrats could at least sit back and watch the fighting among Republicans.


At issue was whether the House would back the bipartisan leadership of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which is battling both the Senate and the White House over writing a new, long-term reauthorization of road and transit programs.


Many in the House believe President Barack Obama’s administration should seize this opportunity to make long-term infrastructure investments to further stimulate the economy. But the White House and Senate prefer to put off this debate until after the 2010 elections, when there will be an opportunity to address the issue of new revenues to support such expenditures.


The bill Wednesday simply extended the current program for three months as this debate continues, but, playing to his political right, Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) sought to derail the effort by denying proponents the two-thirds majority required under the procedures used.


Whip notices sent out argued that Republicans should hold firm until Democrats pledged that any long-term bill will not include an increased gasoline tax. But Cantor failed badly as his party split open — 86-85 for the bill which passed easily 335-85.


Most striking was the silence of Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). He voted with Cantor but earlier walked away without comment when a reporter asked if Republicans were opposing the bill.



http://www.politico.com/news/stories...513_Page2.html
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Old 09-24-2009, 04:44 PM   #2
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Old 09-24-2009, 04:57 PM   #3
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Is this what's going to happen when the non-public-option coops run into (inevitable) financial trouble too?
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Old 09-24-2009, 05:45 PM   #4
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Old 09-24-2009, 05:53 PM   #5
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