A few weeks ago this bill was a foregone conclusion. But with solid opposition from Republicans, and a few defecting conservative Democrats, 1.2 million Americans will suddenly lose their last lifeline.
The measure would protect doctors from a steep cut in Medicare rates scheduled to take effect Friday and extend emergency unemployment benefits that support more than 5 million people. Without congressional action, an estimated 1.2 million people will stop receiving checks by the end of the month, according to independent estimates.
The package also would extend some expired tax breaks for businesses and individuals, including the hugely popular research and development tax credit. And it would raise taxes on oil companies, multinational corporations and investment partnerships.
During the past month, Democratic leaders have winnowed the overall price tag down from $200 billion and reduced its impact on the deficit by two-thirds. The House narrowly approved the package and sent it to the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has been trying to add $24 billion in aid to state governments, a top Obama priority designed to avert thousands of state layoffs and prevent the 9.7 percent unemployment rate from shooting even higher.
To squeeze in that extra cash, Reid has hacked away at other pieces of the package. The latest version would protect doctors from the Medicare pay cut for six months rather than the 19 months approved by the House, for example, and it would dock $25 from the checks of all 15 million people who receive unemployment benefits, repealing a boost approved in last year's stimulus legislation.
The bill needed 60 votes for closure, but only got 56. The Democrats aren't sure what their next move is going to be.