WASHINGTON – House lawmakers today scurried back to Capitol Hill -- booking last-minute flights and canceling appearances at town halls -- to approve a $26 billion package that will provide aid to states.
The rare one-day session, interrupting a six-week congressional recess, was scheduled after the US Senate surprisingly passed the bill last week. The legislation would boost Medicaid and education funding to states, including $655 million for Massachusetts.
The bill approved this afternoon by a 247-to-161 vote, almost strictly along party lines. The 10-member Massachsuetts House delegation all voted in favor.
The legislation comes at a time when both parties are posturing for November’s midterm elections, attempting to get their messages across to voters. Republicans say it illustrates continued reckless spending with a giveaway to public employee unions, while Democrats say the added money is vital to protecting the fragile economy and preventing additional public employee layoffs.
“This special emergency session…is in fact Washington, DC, at its absolute worst,” said Representative David Dreier, a California Republican. “Everything that Americans have come to hate about the way their government works – the waste, the ineptitude, the cynicism, the lack of accountability, the utter disregard for the taxpayers – is all very vividly on display today.”
“At a time when states like Massachusetts are starting to see unemployment rates decrease, now is not the time to pull the rug out from under them,” Representative James McGovern, a Democrat from Worcester, said on the House floor.
The legislation would funnel $10 billion to school districts to rehire teachers who were laid off, or prevent additional cuts just before the school year begins. Advocates estimate the money would keep more than 160,000 public education positions.
The bill also provides $16 billion to extend increased Medicaid payments to states. The funding boost will free up money that can be redirected to other areas of the budget. Advocates estimate that more than 150,000 police officers, fire fighters, and other public employees would be kept on the payroll as a result.
Most governors, including Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, had included this funding in their initial proposals. Patrick later cut the funds when it became unclear whether Congress would approve the boost.
Patrick said last week that he would introduce legislation to spend the money on a range of state programs that were slashed in the $27.6 billion state budget for the current fiscal year, which he signed June 30.
The $26 billion in spending would be offset by several controversial changes. Republicans and businesses have objected to $10 billion that would come through raising taxes on some US-based multinational companies. Democrats and advocates for the poor are aggravated over a plan to phase out an increase in food stamp payments. Those added payments would end in 2014, five years earlier than expected, and would save nearly $12 billion.
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.