Lawmakers Near Agreement on Stimulus Bill Talks
House and Senate leaders last night appeared to be near agreement on procedures that would allow "serious" negotiations to begin on an economic stimulus bill, which would likely include a provision to help unemployed workers purchase health insurance, the Washington Post reports. The House approved economic stimulus legislation in October, but the Senate has not passed a bill, "so the traditional rules of working out an agreement in conference do not apply." As a result, "special procedures were necessary" to agree on the terms of negotiations on the bill (Kessler/Eilperin, Washington Post, 11/30). Lawmakers yesterday discussed the "scope of what would be on the table" in negotiations and a provision to prevent "last-minute amendments on unrelated matters" (Norton et al., CongressDaily, 11/29).
House Republicans proposed a conference with six negotiators -- three each from the House and Senate (Boyer, Washington Times, 11/30). However, Democrats "pressed" to expand the House delegation to include members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over health issues that Democrats "want on the table" (Washington Post, 11/30). The committee, for example, has jurisdiction over Medicaid, and Senate Democrats have proposed Medicaid provisions in their economic stimulus bill (Norton, CongressDaily/AM, 11/30). Earlier this month, Senate Republicans blocked the bill, which 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. 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 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. The House in October approved a different $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. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said last night that "resolution of the procedural disputes was possible" (CongressDaily/AM, 11/30). Lawmakers last night "expressed optimism" that "substantive talks" on an economic stimulus compromise would begin today (Washington Times, 11/30).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.