Senate Panel Approves Democratic Economic Stimulus Bill
The Senate Finance Committee last night voted 11-10 to approve a Democratic-sponsored $66 billion economic stimulus bill that includes subsidies to help unemployed workers purchase health insurance, the Washington Post reports (Kessler, Washington Post, 11/9). The bill 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 (Stevenson, New York Times, 11/9). 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 Democratic 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 (Geewax, Cox News Service/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 11/9). In addition, the bill includes several tax provisions to help businesses and low-income workers (Lambro, Washington Times, 11/9). "It provides a strong, balanced stimulus for economic recovery. It provides important assistance to workers who've lost their jobs," Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said. Ten Democrats and Sen. James Jeffords (I-Vt.) voted in favor of the bill, while 10 Republicans opposed the legislation. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) has scheduled a floor vote on the bill next week. Senate Republicans said that the bill would establish an "expensive new entitlement" and "do little or nothing for the economy." They vowed to "do whatever was needed to kill" the legislation. The New York Times reports that the debate on the Senate floor will likely "set off a partisan free-for-all of amendments" and "delaying tactics" with the "outcome uncertain" (New York Times, 11/9).According to the Times, the debate on the Senate floor will likely "center on how to make sure people can get health care even if they lose their jobs." Senate Republicans favor the Bush-supported proposal to give states grants to provide health insurance to unemployed workers and their families (New York Times, 11/9). Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, said that he has "repeatedly tried to reach common ground" with Democrats on the issue, including an offer to triple the $3 billion that Bush has proposed (Washington Post, 11/9). Meanwhile, the National Governors Association said yesterday that lawmakers must include in an economic stimulus bill additional federal matching funds for state Medicaid programs to allow states to enroll unemployed workers. Many state Medicaid programs are currently facing shortfalls. "States cannot provide services for new people coming onto the Medicaid rolls in their current financial situation," Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton (D) said (New York Times, 11/9). The National Governors Association has backed provisions in the economic stimulus bill proposed by Senate Democrats that would extend benefits to unemployed workers and increase the federal match rate for state Medicaid programs by 0.5% to 2% (Brosnan, Memphis Commercial Appeal, 11/9).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.