Senate Republicans Proposes Compromise on Stimulus Bill
Senate Republicans yesterday proposed a compromise economic stimulus plan that includes provisions to extend unemployment benefits and help unemployed workers purchase health insurance "beyond what President Bush proposed," the Wall Street Journal reports (Murray/Vandehei, Wall Street Journal, 11/28). The plan would extend benefits for unemployed workers by 13 weeks and provide states with $5 billion to help unemployed workers purchase health insurance (Norton/Earle, CongressDaily/AM, 11/28). White House officials said that they support the plan (Wall Street Journal, 11/28). Senate Democrats "welcomed" the proposal "with reservations."
The plan represents the "first serious effort to give Democrats some ground" in the debate over an economic stimulus bill, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/28). Earlier this month, Senate Republicans blocked a bill, proposed by Democrats, 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). The House in October approved a $100 billion GOP-sponsored bill, substantially different from the Senate bill and supported by Bush, that would increase funding for the Social Services Block Grant program by $3 billion to allow states to provide health insurance to unemployed workers and their families (California Healthline, 10/29).
Although the Senate Republicans' compromise plan "has been well received by both parties," the Los Angeles Times reports that the proposal does "nothing to surmount the biggest obstacle to compromise -- the insistence" by Democrats that an economic stimulus bill must include a $15 billion anti-bioterrorism provision (Hook, Los Angeles Times, 11/28). Bush has "vowed" to veto legislation that would increase spending on anti-terrorism measures, and Republicans have promised to block "any legislation that seeks to do so" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/28). Many analysts predict that "only another push by Bush" will force a compromise (Los Angeles Times, 11/28). He plans to meet with congressional leaders today to "step up pressure" on lawmakers to address the issue (Kirchhoff, Boston Globe, 11/28). However, the Los Angeles Times reports that "it's not clear [Bush] can rescue a meaningful" economic stimulus bill from the "legislative mire" before the end of the year (Los Angeles Times, 11/28). The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the meeting "could be a decisive session that either breathes new life into the bill or dooms it" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/28). Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) has said that the "odds of Congress ending the impasse are no better than 50-50," and House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) said yesterday "for the first time" that Congress may not pass an economic stimulus bill this year (Los Angeles Times, 11/28).
Meanwhile, a political "power struggle" in Congress over a separate emergency spending bill has delayed agreement on providing unemployment and health insurance benefits for thousands of workers in the New York area who lost their jobs after the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center. An agreement negotiated by the Bush administration to win Republican votes in the House for the bill, on which lawmakers will likely vote today, would "wipe out" $1.5 billion proposed to help New York and other states help workers who lost their jobs after the attacks and shift the funds to small businesses. Union leaders yesterday "stepped up pressure" to restore the funding for unemployed workers, but they "faced an uphill battle," with the GOP-controlled House Rules Committee "poised to block any further amendments." The White House has promised to help unemployed workers through an economic stimulus bill, but the "future of that legislation is in doubt" (Rogers, Wall Street Journal, 11/28).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.