Senate Begins ‘Messy’ Debate on Stimulus Bill
Senate leaders, hoping to avoid a "messy floor fight," have proposed beginning negotiations with the House and the Bush administration on an economic stimulus bill "without even waiting for the Senate to finish ... its version," the Los Angeles Times reports. However, House Republican leaders, "leery of a summit," appear "unenthusiastic" about starting talks. The Senate opened debate yesterday on a Democratic-sponsored bill that includes subsidies to help unemployed workers purchase health insurance, but Democrats "quickly conceded" that they did not have the votes to pass the legislation (Hook, Los Angeles Times, 11/14). The $66 billion bill, which the Senate Finance Committee passed last week, would provide $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. The legislation also would allow states to extend Medicaid coverage to unemployed workers who do not qualify for COBRA and provide $1.4 billion to boost the federal match to states for Medicaid. In addition, the bill includes several tax provisions to help businesses and low-income workers (California Healthline, 11/9). Senate Republicans have said that the bill would "spend too much" and "cut taxes too little" (Los Angeles Times, 11/9). However, they do not have the votes to move their version of an economic stimulus bill (Kirchoff, Boston Globe, 11/14). That $89 billion plan includes a number of tax cuts recommended by Bush. A group of Senate moderates also has proposed a plan that would establish tax credits to help unemployed workers purchase health insurance (Anderson, AP/Nando Times, 11/13).
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said that he favored early negotiations with the House, which would likely "mean he would have to concede less than if he had to compromise twice," first to move an economic stimulus bill through the Senate and then to get it through a conference committee (Los Angeles Times, 11/14). House Republicans, however, have "balked" at the proposal, which may force them to "accept new spending they do not want and give up tax cuts that they do" (Boston Globe, 11/14). Last month, the House approved a $100 billion GOP-sponsored bill (HR 3090), which Bush supports, that includes a number of tax cuts and would increase funding for the Social Security Block Grant program by $3 billion to allow states to provide health insurance to unemployed workers and their families through a number of programs (California Healthline, 10/29). Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott "expressed optimism" that the parties could reach a compromise within the Senate on a bill, which he said would likely include expanded unemployment and health insurance benefits for unemployed workers in some form (Norton et al., CongressDaily/AM, 11/14).