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.
Despite the Senate's action, which would retroactively make doctors whole for Medicare work, there's still no relief in sight: Pelosi said she saw "no reason" for the House to pass the Senate's six month Doc Fix until the chamber got its act together on the rest of the package. (The version the House passed, after much deficit wrangling, included a 19-month Doc Fix.)
"The bill Senate Republicans allowed to pass is not only inadequate with respect to physician fees, but it ignores urgent sections of the House bill to provide jobs," Pelosi said. "I see no reason to pass this inadequate bill until we see jobs legislation coming out of the Senate."
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.
In the Senate, Democrats are looking to cut $25 per week from every unemployment check. The House cut just under $8 billion in subsidies for laid-off workers to buy health insurance and $24 billion in aid to state Medicaid programs from the package, a crucial chunk of money that Senate leaders and President Obama have insisted should be reinserted to prevent a wave of public sector layoffs.
"Unfortunately, the Republican leadership in the Senate won't even allow this legislation to come up for a vote," said Obama on Saturday. "And if this obstruction continues, unemployed Americans will see their benefits stop. Teachers and firefighters will lose their jobs. Families will pay more for their first home."
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.