House GOP May Take Stimulus Compromise to Floor
House GOP leaders say they may take a new, "scaled-back" economic stimulus bill that includes provisions to extend unemployment benefits and help unemployed workers purchase health insurance to the House floor "if talks fail to produce a House-Senate compromise," the Wall Street Journal reports. Negotiations stalled over the weekend, and as of Monday night, lawmakers had scheduled no "formal meetings" to resume discussion this week. The compromise legislation, proposed last week by House Ways and Means Committee Chair Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), would include at least $20 billion to extend unemployment benefits by 13 weeks and to help unemployed workers purchase health insurance, proposals backed by Democrats (Murray, Wall Street Journal, 12/11). House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) predicted that the House would pass the bill as early as this week and "have the Senate either take it or leave it" (Norton, CongressDaily/AM, 12/11). In October, the House approved a $100 billion GOP-sponsored bill, supported by President Bush, that would increase by $3 billion funding for the Social Services Block Grant program to allow states to provide health insurance to unemployed workers and their families. It also includes a number of tax and finance provisions targeted toward businesses and consumers (California Healthline, 10/29). Senate Democrats had proposed a different bill, which Senate Republicans blocked last month, that would have provided $14.3 billion to extend benefits for unemployed workers by 13 weeks and $12.3 billion to help unemployed workers purchase health coverage through COBRA. COBRA, the 1986 Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, allows unemployed workers to retain health coverage under their former employers' insurance plans by paying 102% of the premiums. In addition, the legislation would have allowed states to extend Medicaid coverage to unemployed workers who do not qualify for COBRA and provided $1.4 billion to boost the federal match to states for Medicaid (California Healthline, 11/15).