OpenCongress Blog

Blog Feed Comments Feed More RSS Feeds

Democrats Skirt Their Own Law To Extend UI/COBRA Benefits

February 17, 2010 - by Eric Naing

Just days after President Obama signed “pay-go” legislation into law, Democrats want to bypass it to extend unemployment and COBRA healthcare benefits.

The “pay-go” rule basically requires Congress to find the money to pay for its non-discretionary spending – ostensibly through spending cuts, tax increases or other revenue enhancements.

The measure, however, contains an important loophole. Anything deemed emergency spending does not fall under the pay-go rule.

This loophole is a reason Republicans cite for their unanimous opposition to pay-go. The loophole is also what Democrats plan to exploit in order to extend unemployment and health insurance benefits.

Included in a $154 billion jobs bill (H.R.2847) passed by the House last December, were billions for a six-month extension of the unemployment insurance benefit and COBRA health care subsidy. An accompanying Senate jobs bill including similar extensions was recently scrapped. Senate Democrats instead plan to pass a standalone UI/COBRA bill, though with a shorter three-month extension to bring down the price tag.

Instead of finding a way to pay for these extensions, The Hill reports that Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] wants to classify them as emergency spending – thus circumventing the pay-go requirement.

Reid spokeswoman Regan LaChapelle explains:

[Reid] believes that providing assistance to families who have suffered a job loss is critical to getting the economy back on track. Extending unemployment compensation and COBRA health insurance premium assistance are important for these families and certainly meet the definition of ‘emergency spending’ contemplated in the pay-go legislation.

Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey isn’t buying Reid’s explanation:

This is why efforts like pay-go are nothing more than a farce, and usually a fraud. The entire point of pay-go is to keep Congress from spending money it’s not receiving. Carving out exceptions to spend more money demonstrates the ineffectiveness of pay-go to slow down spending.

The porous nature of the pay-go law demonstrates how politicians often use budget gimmicks to appear like something is being done about spending. For more information, the Atlantic’s Michael Kinsley has a helpful rundown of pay-go and other budget gimmicks.

Like this post? Stay in touch by following us on Twitter, joining us on Facebook, or by Subscribing with RSS.