The U.S. House could consider as early as today a jobs bill that would be a lifeline for Florida. Critics on Capitol Hill are threatening to undermine the measure because it would further swell the federal deficit. But Florida's Republican-led Legislature is already counting on the money, and the state's unemployed residents need the help.
The American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act is a monster of an enterprise, a political compilation of niche issues that has been under negotiation between the House and Senate for months. Among the provisions: money for teen jobs, small business loans and aid to farmers; restored Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors; and provisions to help struggling pension plans weather the recession.
The bill, costing $190 billion, is fueling a new round of rhetoric from deficit hawks because it only raises about $56 billion in revenue. The cash would come from higher taxes on wealthy investors and multinational corporations' overseas income.
But critics must not lose sight that two key provisions of the bill are extensions of the federal stimulus plan that has created jobs and eased economic pain that would otherwise be far worse. The bill would extend enhanced unemployment compensation benefits through the end of 2010. Otherwise, they will be phased out starting June 1. At a cost of $47 billion, the extension means millions of Americans will still be able to put food on their tables and possibly keep their homes.
The bill also would extend stimulus dollars that have allowed states to reduce the amount of money they spend on Medicaid — the health care program for the poor and disabled — so they can spend it on other things like keeping teachers employed and prisons open. Extending the stimulus through June 2011 will cost $24 billion, roughly $1 billion of which would flow to Florida.
That extra cash was critical earlier this month in helping Florida's Republican leaders balance the state's 2010-11 budget and still maintain funding for schools. Should the cash not show up, the state would have to cut spending, likely reducing money for education, roads and other priorities.
Florida Republican leaders — who repeatedly proclaimed themselves deficit hawks during the recent session — could have opted not to spend the extra Medicaid cash on principle. But they responsibly realized Florida was hurting and needed the help. That is still the case.