House Passes Economic Stimulus Bill Without Tax Credits
The House yesterday voted 417-3 to approve a "scaled-back" version of a Republican-sponsored economic stimulus bill that does not include several contentious provisions in the original legislation, including tax credits to help unemployed workers purchase health insurance, the AP/Nando Times reports (Anderson, AP/Nando Times, 3/7). The bill would extend unemployment benefits by 13 weeks and provide $43 billion in tax breaks for businesses (Eilperin, Washington Post, 3/8). House GOP leaders on Wednesday removed from consideration a provision in the bill that would have provided one-year tax credits to cover up to 60% of the cost of health insurance for unemployed workers. Unemployed workers who lost their jobs between March 15, 2001, when most economists estimate that the recession began, and Jan. 1, 2004, and had health coverage for the previous year, would have qualified for tax credits (American Health Line, 3/7). Democrats opposed the tax credit provision, saying that such a practice could undermine the system of employer-sponsored health insurance (American Health Line, 3/6). The Senate, which has twice approved a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits, will likely approve the House-passed bill, the Los Angeles Times reports. President Bush said that he would sign the legislation (Hook, Los Angeles Times, 3/8).
Earlier Republican and Democratic versions of the legislation contained provisions to help unemployed workers purchase health insurance, and the new bill has received some criticism. A "profoundly disappointed" AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said that the bill does "nothing to help laid-off workers pay the crushing costs of health care" (Washington Post, 3/8). The National Governors Association also expressed concern that the bill does not include provisions to provide a temporary increase in the federal Medicaid match rate to help states address "immense pressures" on their Medicaid programs (Norton/Mitchell, CongressDaily/AM, 3/8). "Help with skyrocketing Medicaid costs must be part of any stimulus package. States must keep their budgets balanced and without relief, the result will be steep cuts and tax increases," Michigan Gov. John Engler (R), chair of the NGA, said (NGA release, 3/7). The Democrat-sponsored Senate stimulus bill, blocked by Republicans last November, included $1.4 billion to boost the federal match to states for Medicaid (California Healthline, 11/15/01). Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that next week Democrats will begin a campaign to collect signatures from lawmakers in the House and Senate to force a vote on a measure to help unemployed workers purchase health insurance through COBRA, which allows unemployed workers to retain health coverage under their former employers' insurance plans by paying 102% of the premiums (Dinan, Washington Times, 3/8). House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) said, "We will not be satisfied and we will not rest until we deal with the health care problems of people who are thrown out of work." Gephardt said that Senate Democrats would not likely propose health insurance amendments to the House-passed bill, a move that he said could "blow apart" the "tenuous consensus" on the legislation, but he said that they may propose a separate measure to address the issue (Gephardt release, 3/7).