News & Events

Senate health bill test vote fails

Senate health bill test vote fails

But extension proposal for $608m alive

By Michael Norton and Kyle Cheney, State House News Service  |  June 17, 2010

Legislation that includes $608 million in extended federal health care funding for Massachusetts failed in the US Senate on a 52-45 test vote yesterday, but the bill is still alive and could win more votes depending on the outcome of continuing policy talks in Washington.

State budget writers on Beacon Hill are closely monitoring debate, mindful that federal funds are critical to the joint budget conference committee, which is working to reconcile the differences in the House and Senate versions of the Massachusetts budget. Those budgets cover spending in a fiscal year that starts July 1.

Legislative leaders have said they hope to have a unified budget to Governor Deval Patrick by Monday, giving him 10 days to review it. Last Monday, House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said lawmakers would probably finalize a budget that does not include the funds, rather than delay action until the matter is settled.

Senator John F. Kerry, a Democrat, voted for the bill during the test vote, and Senator Scott Brown, a Republican, voted against it. Brown did not respond to a request for comment. He has previously expressed opposition to tax increases and deficit spending in the bill.

At the State House yesterday, one of the state Senate’s three budget negotiators described talks in Washington over the threatened state aid as “day to day.’’ According to congressional sources, the bill could win more votes by the end of the week, with a final vote possibly taking place Friday or Saturday.

The funds Massachusetts officials are seeking would come from a six-month extension of a program that originated in the 2009 stimulus act set to expire in December.

While the federal government normally picked up 50 percent of the Medicaid tab in all states, the stimulus law increased the government’s share to 62 percent. Thirty-one states assumed that Congress would authorize an extension of that provision until June 2011. But late last month, federal lawmakers balked in an unexpected election-year clampdown on spending.

Just before Memorial Day, the US House opted against including extended health care assistance to the states in its version of the so-called tax extenders bill now before the US Senate.

Once the US Senate wraps up its work on the bill, congressional leaders will need to resolve differences between House and Senate bills, a process that could bump up against efforts on Beacon Hill to put a budget in place by July 1.

State business leaders are calling on Brown to reverse his stance against the bill that would bring in the federal funding, arguing that the loss of funds would require damaging cuts in a “still-fragile economic climate.’’

“There is no easy or painless way to make cuts that large,’’ said a letter from Paul Guzzi, president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce; Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation; and Andrew Tarsy, executive director of the Progressive Business Leaders Network. “It will mean reductions in all types of state services.’’