Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on Tuesday that the House would return to the debate over COBRA subsidies and aid to state governments when Congress returns, and may package both of them together. The spending was cut from a jobs bill the House passed Friday in order to mollify Democrats concerned about the deficit. The House returns next week.
"There's a changed climate in terms of the size of the spending/investment packages that we're putting forth," said Pelosi in a conference call with progressive media, explaining why she scuttled COBRA and state aid. "If I had all the votes I needed in a non-Blue Dog world, I would not have had to make some of the changes I made to get some Blue Dog support."
Some Democrats, said Pelosi, were reluctant to subsidize COBRA when there were still workers without health care.
Pelosi said that the size of the bill, initially proposed at roughly $200 billion, was too much for some Democrats. "It was a package that was too large for members to digest," Pelosi said, vowing to pass the rest of it piece by piece.
Her members pushed back against continuing COBRA subsidies, which help laid-off workers afford health insurance. An employee laid off after May 31st will pay the full cost of COBRA, which is prohibitive for many people, especially those who have just lost their income.
"COBRA was the most controversial," she said. "The arguments that were used by some, and let me say, they were not confined to Blue Dogs, is that there are people who are working that don't have health insurance and there are people who are not working who have health insurance subsidized by the taxpayer and it's a hard sell for some people back home."
The House bill was passed without aid to states, known as FMAP. House leaders insist that governors need to lobby Congress to make it clear they want the money. Instead, many state officials slam Congress for "out-of-control spending" while plugging their own state budgets with federal money. "We need to hear from both Democratic and Republican governors that they need this," said Dutch Ruppersburger (D-Md.), a senior member of the Appropriations Committee.
Pelosi said that FMAP and COBRA could be tied together. "We will pick up FMAP and hopefully we will be able to include COBRA in that," she said.