Chicago: President-elect Barack Obama and congressional Democrats are considering major expansions of government-assisted health care insurance and unemployment compensation as they begin intensive work this week on a two-year economic recovery package.
One proposal, as described by Democratic advisers, would extend unemployment compensation to part-time workers, an idea that congressional Republicans have blocked in the past.
Other policy changes would subsidize employers’ expenses to temporarily continue health insurance coverage to laid-off and retired workers and their dependents, as mandated under a 22-year-old federal law known as COBRA, and allow workers who lose jobs that did not come with insurance benefits to be eligible, for the first time, to apply for Medicaid coverage.
Policy change: Barack Obama intends to push his promised American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan. Gerald Herbert /AP
The proposals indicate the sorts of potentially long-range changes that Obama intends to push in his promised American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, as he named it in his weekly Saturday address on the radio and YouTube. They will be combined with one-time measures that are more typical of federal stimulus packages to jump-start a weak economy, such as spending for roads and other job-creating public works projects.
As the economy worsened in the weeks after Obama’s election, advisers and congressional leaders suggested that a stimulus plan would be ready by the new year for House votes this week. But the House is not expected to vote until next week at the earliest, which likely will push final action into February, Democratic aides said.
The aides said delays probably were inevitable given the holiday interruptions, the big ambitions of the undertaking and internal tensions over the plan’s components and their costs. Obama advisers have said the package would carry a total cost of at least $775 billion. They concede that it is likely to grow in Congress, but both Obama and congressional leaders are intent on keeping the price tag below the politically charged figure of $1 trillion.
In his address on Saturday, Obama, fresh from a two-week vacation, also announced that, as expected, he would begin meeting in Washington on Monday with congressional leaders of both parties in a bid for bipartisan cooperation.
Obama has vowed to “create or save” three million jobs over the next two years—a goal that many economists consider unattainable under current conditions.