States awaiting federal cash to plug budget gap

By Seth McLaughlin-The Washington Times

State lawmakers from across the country breathed a collective sigh of relief on Thursday after the Democrat-controlled Senate voted to send them billions of emergency Medicaid dollars from last year’s stimulus billending what had been a months-long, filibuster-fueled challenge to the deficit-spending.

More than two dozen cash-strapped states were already banking on the additional money to balance their respective budgets and to avoid unpopular cuts to state services, including K-12 public education and programs for the elderly.

“At a time when lot of people thought these funds were dead on arrival … these are critical funds to staving off further dramatic cuts in state budgets,” said H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the California Department of Finance.

The Senate passed the bill on a 61-39 vote, gaining the support of Maine Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins, both Republicans. Mrs. Snowe and Miss Collins also allowed the bill to clear a big hurdle on Wednesday, when they broke with their party to defeat a GOP-led filibuster and advance the plan to the Senate floor.

Now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, says members of the House will return to Washington for a special session to vote on the plan Tuesday and send the bill to President Obama for his signature.

Democrats on Thursday billed the vote as a victory after months of trying to pour more money into states in an attempt to avoid public-employee layoffs and cuts to safety-net programs.

“The legislation we fought for is about our teachers, the families they need to feed and the children they inspire every day. And it’s about our civil servants, the paychecks they need to make ends meet and the communities they keep moving,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “The other side has come to work every day trying to kill jobs and make sure our economic recovery doesn’t interfere with their campaign message. But these public servants have always been there for us. The least we can do is be there for them.”

Republicans countered by casting it as a handout to public-employee unions and another example of Democrats dumping more debt on future generations and putting off tough choices at the state level.

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