Senate Moves To Extend Unemployment Benefits, Still Lacking COBRA Subsidy

The New York Times: "The Senate broke a stalemate on Tuesday over extending unemployment benefits for Americans who have been out of work for six months or more, voting to override Republican objections that the bill’s costs would add to the federal deficit" (Hulse, 7/20).

Politico: "[W]ith victory in hand, Democrats and the White House were left with the realization that their biggest new stimulus program this summer may be just that — unemployment benefits. Nothing to match the $34 billion unemployment bill is near on the horizon. Smaller initiatives to help small business and cash-strapped states are still struggling to gain traction going into the August recess." Still, most Democrats view Tuesday's vote as a win -- especially as they proceed towards November's elections. "But the majority is still in the hunt for the last vote needed to clear an estimated $70 billion package of tax breaks and jobs-related measures, including $15 billion to help governors meet their Medicaid bills next year" (Rogers, 7/21).

The Hill: The vote "came after Sen. Carte Goodwin (D-W.Va.) was sworn in to replace the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), which gave Democrats the 60 votes then needed ... Two Republicans, Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, supported moving to a final vote on the extension of benefits, which would run through November. Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) was the only Democrat to oppose the extension" (Needham, 7/20).

The Washington Post:  "Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the measure could have been approved weeks ago if Democrats had agreed to cover its cost. ... 'This debate is about whether, in extending these benefits, we should add to the debt or not,' [McConnell said]. That battle, first engaged in late February, has dragged on for months and forced Democrats repeatedly to pare back their plans for helping unemployed workers and stimulating a sluggish economy."

Democrats "abandoned plans to extend subsidies that pay up to 65 percent of COBRA health insurance premiums for unemployed workers. 'It shouldn't take a supermajority to help families afford the bare necessities while unemployment is rising,' said Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid" (Montgomery, 7/20).

Orange County Register: "The legislation changed dramatically since it was originally introduced as part of a package of tax breaks for business, Medicare rates for doctors and other issues, none of which had anything to do with unemployment" (Milbourn, 7/20).

ProPublica: "Before the stimulus bill was passed last year, states paid for the first 26 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits. Then, depending on the state unemployment rate, states had the option of accepting a 50 percent federal subsidy to provide up to 53 more weeks of coverage. The stimulus bill increased that subsidy for extended benefits to 100 percent, and added an extra 13 to 20 weeks of benefits, again based on each state’s unemployment rate. It also provided for a COBRA subsidy for jobless workers buying health insurance from their former employers" (Pierce, 7/20).

Related, earlier KHN story: COBRA, Medicaid Subsidies Still Loom Over Congressional Agenda (Villegas, 7/2)

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