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 for temporarily continuing 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. 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,like spending for roads and other job-creating public works projects.
As the economy worsened in the weeks after Obamas 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 will most likely push final action into February,Democratic aides said. The aides said delays were probably inevitable given the holiday interruptions,the big ambitions of the undertaking and internal tensions over the plans components and their costs. Obama advisers have said the package will carry a total cost of at least $775 billion.
Still,Democrats are wary of slowing down the economic stimulus by provoking the opposition of Republicans,who have warned in recent days that the package must be neither excessive nor rushed. They are also fielding concerns from fiscally conservative Democrats.
In his address on Saturday,Obama,just off 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.
Economists from across the political spectrum agree that if we dont act swiftly and boldly, Obama said,we could see a much deeper economic downturn that could lead to double digit unemployment and the American dream slipping further and further out of reach.
Obama has pledged to create or save three million jobs over the next two years. In his address,he omitted the word save, suggesting he would create three million jobs,a goal that many economists consider unattainable under current conditions.
His plan,he said in his address,would put people back to work today and reduce our dependence on foreign oil tomorrow through spending and tax incentives to double production of renewable energy; make government buildings more energy efficient; build and renovate roads,bridges and schools; and modernize health care technology.
A main factor slowing down the Obama teams drafting,it is now apparent,has been the difficulty of reconciling his sometimes conflicting directives.
The president-elect called for including in the plan only proposals that would quickly stimulate the economy. Typically that means one-time spending that gets money into consumers hands quickly to spark demand for goods and services.
Both Obama and Congressional leaders are intent on keeping the price tag below the politically charged figure of $1 trillion. In the emerging Obama plan,such items will include $140 billion to $200 billion in relief to states to offset their budget-busting costs for Medicaid and education; extension of unemployment compensation for former full-time workers,which runs out in March; and billions of dollars for construction projects that Obama has called shovel ready.
But Obama has also said his recovery plan must make down-payments on his campaign promises for permanent changes that will reshape the economy,especially for the good of low-wage and middle-class workers.