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The Nation | ACTION IN CONGRESS

2 Bills Extending Jobless Aid OKd

House and Senate measures afford more assistance but for different time periods. No other action is seen before adjournment.

November 15, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The House and Senate approved separate unemployment benefits bills Thursday night as lawmakers rushed to get their legislation approved before adjourning the postelection session and heading home for the year.

The House bill would extend unemployment benefits for victims of the recession. Congress had approved a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits as part of an economic stimulus package it passed earlier this year, but that extension expires Dec. 31.

The House bill would provide for another five weeks of benefits for those who have not yet exhausted their extension. That's designed to give lawmakers time to return in January and examine the issue further.

The Senate approved by voice vote a version that would offer an extension through the end of March. It would also allow people who have exhausted their regular 26 weeks of unemployment insurance to qualify for the extension, lawmakers said.

"The House passed a one-month program. This is a three-month program," said Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.). "I happen to think it's a more orderly, more well-thought-out program."

"Extending unemployment insurance is not just the right thing to do for working Americans, it is good economic policy," said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), one of the authors of the legislation. "I am calling on our colleagues in the House to pass this extension before they adjourn."

It is unlikely that the House will consider the Senate's bill before going home for the year, or that the Senate will consider the House's bill before going home for the year.

The House's bill also extends a welfare law and restores Medicare payments to doctors.

The welfare provisions would extend the welfare law through March 31 to give lawmakers time to pass legislation renewing it.

Lawmakers have negotiated for months on how best to renew the landmark 1996 bill that overhauled the nation's welfare program. But they remain hung up over issues such as whether welfare recipients should be forced to work more hours each week and how much money Washington should send states to help pay for child care.

The government's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would get the legal protection to fix problems with a Medicare payment formula that decides how much doctors get paid.

Doctors have said the faulty formula has caused them to lose billions of dollars because it is tied to the economy, which is struggling. Doctors have already taken a 5.4% cut and are facing another 12% in cuts, equaling about $11 billion, over the next three years. Many have begun to refuse to accept Medicare patients.

Lawmakers and the Bush administration agreed the payment formula is unfair and expressed interest in finding a remedy. But the issue got bogged down after the House and Senate wanted to include money for hospitals, HMOs and other providers against White House wishes. Thursday's provision does not offer new money to fix the problem, as earlier proposals in Congress did.

It simply gives the administration the legal protection to correct the problem if it chooses.

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