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Senate approves $138-billion spending bill

The legislation, which must be reconciled with the House version, would extend jobless benefits and tax measures created to boost the economy, and help states pay for Medicaid.

March 11, 2010|By Kim Geiger

Reporting from Washington — After months of wrangling, the Senate on Wednesday approved a $138-billion spending bill that would extend jobless benefits, help states pay for Medicaid and continue a bundle of tax measures designed to stimulate the economy.

The measure -- which must still be reconciled with a version passed in the House -- also extends tax cuts for college tuition, the program that helps laid-off workers keep their job-based health insurance, and tax breaks for research and development that have long been important to the nation's high-tech industries.

In addition, the bill delays a threatened 21% cutback in the payments doctors receive for treating Medicare patients.

The vote came as Democrats, increasingly anxious about the fall elections, were stepping up their efforts to deal with the high level of unemployment.

"Extending these tax cuts and the critical safety-net programs in this bill will give businesses the tax certainty they need to move forward and families the support they need to make ends meet," said Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Republicans criticized the bill. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the Senate's No. 3 Republican, said, "Congress can't keep coming up with grand ideas like this $100-billion jobs bill, pretending it can add to our alarming debt without hurting the economy."

But the measure was approved 62 to 36, with six Republicans voting in favor.

One Democrat, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, voted no.

The Republicans voting yes were Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, David Vitter of Louisiana, George V. Voinovich of Ohio, and Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe, both of Maine.

The bill includes $25 billion in new Medicaid funds to help financially hard-pressed states pay for healthcare for the poor. California is projected to receive at least $1.7 billion.

Crop producers who suffered losses because of drought would receive $150 million in disaster assistance, with a substantial amount likely to go to growers in California.

The money was added at the behest of the state's Democratic senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

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