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Energy, health care, taxes all part of Senate end-of-year votes

Senate boosts energy sector spirits, also gives to doctors, unemployed, taxpayers

December 17, 2011

For at least two more months, Medicare will pay doctors the current reimbursement rates, employee payroll taxes will not rise and unemployment benefits will continue under a bill the U.S. Senate passed Saturday. The legislation also requires a decision on a major energy project sooner than President Obama had hoped.

U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., supported the bill, which the Senate passed 89-10.

“The Keystone Pipeline should be a slam dunk.  It would provide tens of thousands of Americans with job opportunities and bring in oil from a friendly neighbor.  This administration’s delay of a politically unpleasant decision is not good for our country.  Senate and House members from both parties see that and I’m pleased we were able to act,” Enzi said.

Enzi said members must use the temporary extension of unemployment benefits, doctor pay and the lower Social Security payroll tax rate to put in place more permanent reforms.

“During the next two months we need to figure out how we can avoid taking more from Social Security, a program that without structural change, is a sinking fiscal ship.  We also need to move closer toward putting in place a formula so doctors don’t have to worry about not getting paid.  Since 2003 we’ve been passing temporary fixes.  We also need to shift our thinking from how can the government pay people who are unemployed to how can we get the private sector to hire more workers.  The pipeline should help with that,” Enzi said. 

The Senate bill would require a construction permit be issued for the Keystone XL pipeline within 60 days unless the President determines the pipeline is not in the national interest.  The Senate bill would also keep workers’ Social Security payroll tax rate of 4.2 percent from increasing to 6.2 percent and temporarily spare doctors from a more than 27 percent cut in what Medicare will reimburse them.  The measure would ensure that for two more months, unemployment benefits could continue to be paid for 99 weeks instead of 79 weeks.

The price tag of this two-month bill is nearly $40 billion, but Enzi was pleased they were able to find a way to pay for it without raising taxes.  The bill raises enough revenue to offset the cost by raising guarantee fees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac charge mortgage lenders to guarantee repayment of new mortgage loans.

The Senate also passed a massive “megabus” appropriations bill Saturday.  Enzi voted against that bill.

“I voted against this spending bill because it rolled nine appropriation bills into one and we had very little time to look through it. This is not the fiscal stewardship our constituents expect, nor is it the way we should be legislating,” Enzi said.  “There were at least some good things in the bill.  One provision ensures traditional incandescent light bulbs gain nine months of life. It will prevent the implementation of a de facto incandescent light bulb ban until the end of September 2012.  I’ve led the effort in the Senate to leave lighting choices to consumers instead of the federal government.”

The House passed the “megabus” bill Friday so this legislation is on its way to the President for his signature.  The House must come back next week to consider the Keystone, payroll tax, unemployment, “doc fix” bill.