Democrats Seek Health Benefits for Trade Displaced Workers
Senate Democrats are insisting that they will not move forward with President Bush's request for "fast-track" trade negotiating authority -- which would allow him to offer trade bills to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote without amendments -- unless the measure includes health insurance provisions for American workers displaced by international trade, the Wall Street Journal reports (King/Murray, Wall Street Journal, 4/5). The trade bill approved by the Senate Finance Committee in February contained a provision that would offer trade-displaced workers a 75% subsidy to purchase health insurance through COBRA -- the 1986 Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, which allows unemployed workers to keep their employer-sponsored health coverage by paying 102% of the premiums. The White House trade proposal offers no health care benefits. Congressional Republicans say that any new health benefits should come in the form of a tax credit that would cover up to 60% of the cost of trade-displaced workers' health insurance (Stokes, National Journal, 3/30).
The partisan divisions "mirro[r]" the disagreement last year over how to provide health coverage for unemployed workers in an economic stimulus package, the Wall Street Journal reports (Wall Street Journal, 4/5). After months of disagreement between Republicans and Democrats over the shape of possible health benefits, President Bush last month signed a stimulus bill that contained no health insurance provisions. But National Journal's Bruce Stokes writes in his "Economic Interests" column that the situation might be different this time around. Republicans facing difficult re-election campaigns this year might be hesitant to be on record as opposing a health benefit. And moderate Democrats may be willing to accept a "hybrid tax credit," although liberals are likely to "hol[d] out for a subsidy." He concludes that in order to reach an effective compromise on the trade bill, Democrats will have to "avoid making the perfect the enemy of the good," and Republicans will have to "compromise ... their conservative ideology" (National Journal, 3/30).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.