Good news: the U.S. Senate overcame an attempt to filibuster a bill containing $26.1 billion in fiscal aid to state governments today. About $10 billion will support state education budgets in order to save teaching jobs. The other $16.1 billion will support state Medicaid budgets according to the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage or FMAP formula, which was originally part of the 2009 stimulus package. The Senate's final vote on this bill is set for August 5, and it will easily gain more than the 50 votes needed for passage. Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to call the House of Representatives back from August recess in order to approve this bill next week.
Iowa's Senator Tom Harkin was a co-sponsor of this bill. Senator Chuck Grassley joined Republicans who tried to block it from getting an up-or-down floor vote. I haven't seen a statement from his office explaining why. The bill does not add to the deficit, because expenses are offset by revenue-raising measures:
Senate Democrats said the $26 billion bill would be paid in part by revenue raising changes in tax law. Senate Democrats said the modifications would curtail abuses of the U.S. foreign tax credit system. The bill would also end the Advanced Earned Income Tax Credit and would return in 2014 food stamp benefits to levels set before last year's federal stimulus plan.
I'm not happy about cutting future food stamp benefits, but there may be opportunities to restore that funding in other bills. This federal fiscal aid is urgently needed to prevent teacher layoffs in the school year that's about to begin.
Republican gubernatorial nominee Terry Branstad has been touring Iowa this summer with a contradictory campaign message. On the one hand, he blasts education cuts that have eliminated some teaching positions (he exaggerates the number of teacher layoffs, but that's a topic for another post). On the other hand, Branstad criticizes the use of "one-time money" from the federal government to support the state budget. He promises to veto any budget that would spend more than 99 percent of projected state revenues. Branstad has never explained what he would have cut to make up for the federal stimulus money, but other questions are on my mind today, namely:
1. Does Branstad think Grassley did the right thing in trying to stop this fiscal aid package from reaching Iowa and other states?
2. Iowa's budget for fiscal year 2011 assumes about $120 million in additional Medicaid funding under the FMAP program. If elected governor, would Branstad try to return that money to the federal government?
3. Would Branstad reject federal education funding that is targeted for saving teachers' jobs in the upcoming academic year?
Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.
UPDATE: A statement from Senator Harkin's office says this bill would provide "at least $128 million in additional Medicaid funding" to Iowa in the current fiscal year. Harkin also said,
"This vote came down to one thing: priorities. Today, a majority of Senators proved that our priority is helping those who are the backbone of this country, America's teachers and our families, to weather the continuing effects of the great recession. And we provide this funding without adding one dime to the deficit.
"This is a crisis of the first order. Not since the Great Depression have our public schools faced the prospect of such massive layoffs. With this fund, we will preserve tens of thousands of education jobs that states can use for retaining or hiring employees at the pre-K and K-12 levels.
"Also with the funding, we provide critical assistance to states, whose budgets are already stretched to the limit, to protect Medicaid. This six month extension of federally-matched funding will allow states to continue health benefits for some of the nation's most needy."
SECOND UPDATE: Jennifer Jacobs reported somewhat different numbers for the Des Moines Register:
A federal spending plan that advanced in Congress Wednesday would route $83.1 million in extra money to help Iowa pay for children's services and payments to hospitals and nursing homes.
But the Iowa Legislature banked on getting an $116 million in extra federal Medicaid money in the first six months of next year.
That means the state budget will be short $32.9 million - or short $116 million if the bill fails to pass Congress altogether, according to the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency. Medicaid is the government health insurance plan for the poor. [...]
The measure would give states $16 billion to help cover their Medicaid budgets, and $10 billion to extend programs enacted in last year's stimulus law to help preserve the jobs of teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public employees.
Iowa would get about $96.5 million in the jobs piece, which would protect about 1,500 jobs, said U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat.
Keep in mind that Iowa's budget for fiscal year 2011 has an ending balance of $182.6 million, providing a cushion in case some expected revenue doesn't materialize. Also, state revenues for the first month of the current fiscal year exceeded projections. Falling short $32.9 million in federal Medicaid assistance isn't ideal, but it is manageable and far better than falling $116 million short, as would happen if Grassley and other Republicans got their way.
THIRD UPDATE: The Senate gave final approval to this bill on August 5 by a 61-39 vote. Grassley voted no along with most of the Republican caucus.