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GOP filibusters wide-ranging benefits and tax bill in Senate

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Senate Democrats fail to overcome GOP filibuster of wide-ranging bill
  • Measure would extend unemployment benefits, prevent cuts in reimbursements to Medicare doctors
  • Democrats complain Republicans supporting special interests and stalling progress
  • Republicans say bill raises deficit too much

(CNN) -- Senate Democrats failed Thursday to overcome a Republican filibuster of a bill to extend unemployment benefits and prevent Medicare doctors from having their reimbursements cut.

All Republicans opposed ending debate on the wide-ranging bill, forcing further negotiations on specific provisions to seek a possible compromise.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid complained Republicans were simply stalling progress on the bill, and he and other Democratic leaders said the GOP filibuster showed Republicans were aligned with special interests such as oil companies and Wall Street hedge funds.

In floor debate, Republicans proposed using money from the stimulus bill to pay for provisions of the bill, but Democrats objected. Republicans complained that the bill would increase the deficit, a concern shared by some Democrats.

The legislation extends the deadline to file for federal unemployment benefits until the end of November, renews expired tax provisions, lengthens a small-business lending program and adds to infrastructure investments.

It also increases the tax on money paid to managers of hedge funds and investment partnerships to ordinary income levels instead of the much-lower capital gains rate.

Under a revised version introduced this week as a possible compromise, investment fund managers would have to treat 75 percent of this money as ordinary income, beginning in 2011.

A major change in the revised version eliminates a $25 weekly supplement for the jobless that had been part of the last year's stimulus act. Those currently receiving the supplement in their unemployment benefits check will continue to do so until they exhaust their extended benefits, or until the week of December 7, whichever comes first. That cut will reduce the bill's cost by $5.8 billion over the next decade.

The new version of the bill also would freeze a 21 percent cut to Medicare physician reimbursement rates only through November, instead of through 2011, to reduce the overall cost by $16.4 billion over 10 years.

The revised bill further hiked a tax on oil that finances the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to 49 cents a barrel, which is projected to raise $18.3 billion over 10 years. The current tax is 8 cents a barrel, and the House version of the bill proposes a 34-cent tax per barrel.

In addition, the revised Senate bill retained $24 billion in Medicaid funding to states, a provision the House had to jettison in its negotiations on a less expensive version.

President Barack Obama and governors pressed lawmakers to keep the money, which many state officials have already included in their fiscal 2011 budgets that begin July 1.

The Senate version includes a measure that would push back the deadline to close on home purchases and still qualify for a federal tax credit of up to $8,000. Home buyers would have until September 30, instead of June 30, to complete the transaction. The provision will cost $140 million over 10 years.

The legislation, which has been stuck in the Senate for more than a week, originally came in at about $140 billion and would have added about $78.7 billion to the deficit. The overall impact on the deficit of the revised version would be $55.1 billion.

On the House side, it took two revisions that shrank the measure before it could pass. The House version would increase the deficit by $54.3 billion.