COBRA, Jobs Bill In Further Jeopardy After Death Of Sen. Byrd

Roll Call: The death of Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., has jeopardized further the passage of some bills in Congress, including a bill that would extend unemployment benefits. "Democratic leaders have been thwarted numerous times in recent weeks on jobs legislation, despite scaling down the measure dramatically after Republicans and some moderate Democrats balked at adding to the deficit. Byrd's death makes passage of any significant spending plan, such as a $50 billion state aid package pushed by President Barack Obama, even dicier." Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe, of Maine, is pushing for state aid, including enhanced Medicaid money for states, to be stripped out of the bill. It would leave only a short-term extension of unemployment benefits in the bill. Democrats, in the meantime, are hitting Republicans on a separate budget consideration that they say would "slash spending on Social Security and Medicare" (Dennis and Stanton, 6/29).

The Baltimore Sun: Congress' failure to restore a subsidy meant to help laid-off workers afford to keep their former employer's health insurance has advocates crossing their fingers that "federal legislators will have a change of heart, at least for unemployment benefits. But the unemployed shouldn't bank on that given concerns in Congress, particularly among Republicans, that the deficit is getting out of hand and spending must be cut. … Until recently, Uncle Sam paid 65 percent of the COBRA insurance premium for unemployed workers remaining on a former employer's health plan. This subsidy — good for 15 months — expired at the end of May, so anyone losing a job this month or later is out of luck" (Ambrose, 6/28).

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