WASHINGTON – Playing the “Grinch who stole Christmas,” President Bush and his Republican helpers on Capitol Hill blocked a Senate bill that would provide an additional 13 weeks in jobless benefits and extend health care for millions of unemployed workers, many of them under a temporary federal Medicaid plan.
Sen. Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) had blocked the House-passed “economic stimulus” package on grounds that it would lavish tens of billions in tax giveaways to wealthy corporations while offering nothing to the hundreds of thousands of workers laid off in the current recession. He pushed for Senate passage of a package that extended the coverage an additional 13 weeks and increased the benefits modestly.
Daschle’s plan also provided for extended health care coverage for jobless workers and their families either in the form of Medicaid benefits or as targeted tax credits to employers conditioned on their continuing to provide coverage.
To counter Daschle’s plan, Bush added to the GOP stimulus package a scheme to give unemployed workers tax credits in the form of vouchers that would pay 60 percent of premiums charged by private, for profit, HMOs.
Democrats pointed out that jobless workers would be hard-pressed to cover the 40 percent balance on these private health care plans. The entire cost of this $210 billion “stimulus” package would come from Social Security taxes paid by workers through payroll deductions, a scheme to force workers to shoulder the entire burden of “jump-starting” the economy. Democrats also blasted the scheme as a trick to clear the way for dismantling the system of employer-provided health care benefits.
Bush made a trip to Capitol Hill to promote his package considered a key element of next year’s GOP election strategy. Republicans, who have lost control of the Senate and hold only a razor thin margin in the House, fear being exposed as obstructionists of measures to aid the unemployed.
They seek to shift blame to the Democrats for the deadlock. Daschle told a Capitol Hill news conference that the Bush-GOP plan “is going nowhere, in large part because it doesn’t have the votes.”
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) angrily assailed the Republican’s attempt to package their “stimulus” package as assistance to the unemployed.
“To have the concept that we’re giving relief to the rich at the expense of the payroll taxes that people are putting in is repugnant to everything that is fair and equitable, especially at this time of year,” Rangel said.