Senate Vote Delayed until Wednesday on Funding for Medicaid and Teachers
The U.S. Senate had scheduled a vote for late Monday afternoon (Aug. 2) on a bill that would provide Wisconsin an estimated $365 million, according to the State Budget Office. However, the vote on that bill (HR 1586) has been delayed for a couple of days, because the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said today that the costs exceed the offsets by $4.9 billion. Senator Reid and others will take the next two days to recraft the package so it’s deficit neutral.
Congress has been attempting for months to provide additional fiscal relief to states to avoid deeper cuts that would ripple through the economy and undermine the shaky economic recovery. However, the Senate has been unable to muster the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster of the bill.
Department of Health Services Secretary Karen Timberlake and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers held a conference call for the press on Sunday to draw attention to the Senate vote and to urge Wisconsin’s Senators to support the bill. As Superintendent Evers said in a press release issued this morning: “We appreciate the way Senators Kohl and Feingold stepped up last year to help us prevent the worst. But we are not yet in the clear. Additional help still is required to avoid devastating cuts to our schools and health care safety net.”
Democrats will have to pick up at least one Republican vote for the bill, and whether that will happen is still unclear. One of the GOP complaints has been that extending fiscal relief to the states would add to the federal deficit. Leading Senate Democrats aimed to address that concern by offsetting the entire cost through cuts in other programs and the closing of tax loopholes. However, today’s CBO analysis means that Senator Reid and others need to find almost $5 billion in additional savings or revenue to make the amendment deficit neutral.
One of the offsets is very disappointing for progressive advocates, particularly groups working on hunger and nutrition issues. Effective on March 31, 2015, it would end a temporary increase in food stamp benefits, hastening the ending date for that benefit increase made by the-Recovery Act. Despite that provision, many progressive groups support the bill, on balance, because jobs and Medicaid shortfalls are such pressing concerns. Also, the reduction in future food stamp spending is being considered as an offset in other legislation, so it may occur in 2015 regardless of whether it is part of HR 1586.
A Journal Sentinel article this morning about the proposed legislation does a nice job of looking at the Medicaid shortfall and Secretary Timberlake’s strong support for an extension of Medicaid fiscal relief.
According to the State Budget Office, the bill would yield about $185 million in General Fund savings in Wisconsin’s Medicaid budget and about $180 million in education funding. I had previously said that the bill would save Wisconsin at least $200 million in Medicaid, based on the estimate by Federal Funds Information for States (FFIS); however, I assume that DHS is in a better position than FFIS to assess how much our state could expect to receive.
Jon Peacock, Budget Project Director