WORKING DISABLED: Bill Bogged Down in Senate
Despite yesterday's unanimous vote in the House Commerce Committee approving a bill that would allow disabled workers to return to work without losing their Medicare or Medicaid benefits, the bill is still "far from a done deal" in the House, and Senate floor action remains uncertain, Congress Daily/A.M. reports. The Work Incentives Improvement Act, which has bipartisan and presidential support, is expected to cost $800 million over five years and would extend Medicare coverage from four to 10 years, "expand states' ability to offer 'buy-in' programs for Medicaid," and include rehabilitation, job training and placement services (Rovner, CongressDaily/A.M., 5/19). Currently, disabled Americans lose their Medicare or Medicaid coverage if they earn more than $500 per month -- a restriction that discourages many from taking jobs. President Clinton yesterday hailed the bill's passage, saying, "The committee has taken an important step toward removing significant barriers to work for one of our nation's most significant untapped resources -- millions of people with disabilities." And bill sponsor Rep. Rick Lazio (R-NY) said he hoped the bill would reach the House floor by the end of this year (Wall Street Journal, 5/20). However, Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ) said he had concerns over the "bill's overall costs," and the fact that it lacks an imposed income requirement for participants. The bill moves next to the House Ways and Means Committee, where Chair Bill Archer (R-TX) has already expressed concerns that the bill contains no spending offsets (Rovner, CongressDaily/A.M., 5/19).
In the Senate, "among the apparently few opponents of the bipartisan measure are the two who will determine whether and when it reaches the Senate floor": Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) and Majority Whip Don Nickles (R-OK). Both have expressed concerns over its estimated cost and "some of the Finance Committee's proposed offsets, particularly an extension of the foreign tax credit." CongressDaily/A.M. reports that Lott and Nickles are continuing to negotiate with the bill's Senate sponsors, Finance Committee Chair William Roth (R-DE) and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY). As the popular bill continues to languish, the disability community is stepping up its efforts to get the bill passed. Approximately 30 individuals with disabilities protested outside of Lott's office two weeks ago, while others spoke at a press conference Wednesday with Lazio. "I want to get a better job. I want to pay more income tax," said David Norcross, who suffers from multiple sclerosis (Rovner, CongressDaily/A.M., 5/20).