Sen. Levin Floor Statement on Extension of Payroll Tax Cut, Unemployment Benefits and Medicare Reimbursements

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mr. President, I am pleased that today we can approve a full-year extension of the payroll tax cut, important tax relief that is focused on middle-class families who have suffered greatly during the Great Recession, tax relief that will help continue the economic recovery that appears to be under way and that we all hope will strengthen in the months to come.
The controversy over how to offset the cost of this payroll tax relief has twice now nearly derailed this important middle class tax relief. I am glad that we have for the second time avoided such an outcome. But my strong preference would be for our colleagues across the aisle and across the Capitol to accept the reality that added revenue must eventually be a part of our strategy here. Democrats have offered common-sense solutions that would have allowed us to prevent a tax increase on American families without adding to the deficit and without damaging our economic recovery. Rather than take steps such as ask for a small contribution from the wealthiest Americans – those with annual incomes above $1 million – our Republican colleagues preferred to add to the deficit. That is an unfortunate choice.
Just as important as the extension of middle-class tax relief in this bill is the extension of emergency unemployment benefits. It is good for Michigan and good for the nation that we have rejected the approach advocated by some, which would have slashed these important benefits. Emergency jobless benefits have kept food on the table and shelter overhead for millions of families across the country coping with the loss of a job through no fault of their own. Beyond those families, this funding has been an economic lifeline to communities hard-hit by job losses, and it has been an important component in our economic recovery.
I should note here that my own state cannot take full advantage of this extension unless it reverses the decision of the governor and state Legislature to cut state benefits from 26 weeks to 20 weeks. Because of this decision, from March through May of this year, Michiganians who could be eligible for a total of 89 weeks of benefits will be limited to 69 weeks. For a relatively small investment on the state’s part, we could make a major difference for Michigan families if we reverse the state’s cuts. I hope the governor and Legislature will reconsider their position.
The extension of the so-called “doc fix” to prevent major cuts in Medicare reimbursements to health care providers is another important part of this legislation.  Year after year we find ourselves toying with the idea of allowing drastic cuts to the providers who serve our nation’s elderly and most vulnerable. I’m glad we again avoided this outcome; however, we missed yet another important opportunity to fix this growing problem that becomes more expensive the longer we wait to act. 
In addition to the supporting our nation’s health care providers, this bill includes a short term extension of hospital wage index reclassifications under Section 508 of the Medicare Modernization Act. While I am disappointed we were unable to provide a long-term extension of this provision – which helps remedy an inaccurate Medicare classification – at least we were able to include a retroactive four month extension for affected hospitals in my state.  And while some of the health care cuts used to pay for these extensions will be very difficult to absorb, I am pleased we successfully pushed back against the most draconian cuts to important safety net providers that House Republican’s included in their bill.
The legislation also authorizes the Federal Communications Commission to hold incentive auctions to entice broadcasters to sell some of their unused or underused spectrum to free up spectrum to meet growing demand for wireless broadband technologies and also help public safety officials build a national broadband network to improve communications during emergencies.  
Securing adequate spectrum for and building out a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network is an important public policy goal that is overdue to be implemented as a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. 
One issue related to these auctions of particular interest to me is the uniqueness of our border regions when it comes to spectrum signals.  Broadcasters, including those in Detroit, Flint, Traverse City, Grand Rapids, and Lansing, have been concerned about potential interference of signals along the border if spectrum allocations were modified from the carefully negotiated existing signals. I am pleased that this has been addressed by requiring that any reassignments of channels be subject to special rules to avoid that interference.

Mr. President, I am pleased that today we can approve a full-year extension of the payroll tax cut, important tax relief that is focused on middle-class families who have suffered greatly during the Great Recession, tax relief that will help continue the economic recovery that appears to be under way and that we all hope will strengthen in the months to come.

The controversy over how to offset the cost of this payroll tax relief has twice now nearly derailed this important middle class tax relief. I am glad that we have for the second time avoided such an outcome. But my strong preference would be for our colleagues across the aisle and across the Capitol to accept the reality that added revenue must eventually be a part of our strategy here. Democrats have offered common-sense solutions that would have allowed us to prevent a tax increase on American families without adding to the deficit and without damaging our economic recovery. Rather than take steps such as ask for a small contribution from the wealthiest Americans – those with annual incomes above $1 million – our Republican colleagues preferred to add to the deficit. That is an unfortunate choice.

Just as important as the extension of middle-class tax relief in this bill is the extension of emergency unemployment benefits. It is good for Michigan and good for the nation that we have rejected the approach advocated by some, which would have slashed these important benefits. Emergency jobless benefits have kept food on the table and shelter overhead for millions of families across the country coping with the loss of a job through no fault of their own. Beyond those families, this funding has been an economic lifeline to communities hard-hit by job losses, and it has been an important component in our economic recovery.

I should note here that my own state cannot take full advantage of this extension unless it reverses the decision of the governor and state Legislature to cut state benefits from 26 weeks to 20 weeks. Because of this decision, from March through May of this year, Michiganians who could be eligible for a total of 89 weeks of benefits will be limited to 69 weeks. For a relatively small investment on the state’s part, we could make a major difference for Michigan families if we reverse the state’s cuts. I hope the governor and Legislature will reconsider their position.

The extension of the so-called “doc fix” to prevent major cuts in Medicare reimbursements to health care providers is another important part of this legislation.  Year after year we find ourselves toying with the idea of allowing drastic cuts to the providers who serve our nation’s elderly and most vulnerable. I’m glad we again avoided this outcome; however, we missed yet another important opportunity to fix this growing problem that becomes more expensive the longer we wait to act. 

In addition to the supporting our nation’s health care providers, this bill includes a short term extension of hospital wage index reclassifications under Section 508 of the Medicare Modernization Act. While I am disappointed we were unable to provide a long-term extension of this provision – which helps remedy an inaccurate Medicare classification – at least we were able to include a retroactive four month extension for affected hospitals in my state.  And while some of the health care cuts used to pay for these extensions will be very difficult to absorb, I am pleased we successfully pushed back against the most draconian cuts to important safety net providers that House Republican’s included in their bill.

The legislation also authorizes the Federal Communications Commission to hold incentive auctions to entice broadcasters to sell some of their unused or underused spectrum to free up spectrum to meet growing demand for wireless broadband technologies and also help public safety officials build a national broadband network to improve communications during emergencies.  

Securing adequate spectrum for and building out a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network is an important public policy goal that is overdue to be implemented as a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. 

One issue related to these auctions of particular interest to me is the uniqueness of our border regions when it comes to spectrum signals.  Broadcasters, including those in Detroit, Flint, Traverse City, Grand Rapids, and Lansing, have been concerned about potential interference of signals along the border if spectrum allocations were modified from the carefully negotiated existing signals. I am pleased that this has been addressed by requiring that any reassignments of channels be subject to special rules to avoid that interference.