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Senate Democrats win on $1.9tril pandemic relief package

written by Bella Palmer
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The chamber’s parliamentarian said funding to shore up failing union pension plans and to subsidize health insurance for jobless workers do not violate the "Byrd rule"

Senate Democrats won two procedural battles Monday on a $1.9 trillion pandemic stimulus package which they hope to pass by the weekend.

The chamber’s parliamentarian said funding to shore up failing union pension plans and to subsidize health insurance for jobless workers do not violate the "Byrd rule," which limits what can be considered under budget reconciliation procedures, according to Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

The guidance virtually ensures that two key provisions sought by Democrats can pass as part of the aid package that emerged from the House over the weekend, despite solid Republican opposition.

Using reconciliation enables lawmakers to pass legislation with a simple majority in the Senate, and there's always a process known as a "Byrd bath" before it reaches the floor to ensure the legislation complies with the law named for former Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va. Apart from other requirements, the Byrd rule requires provisions to have a direct budgetary impact, and the deficit impact can't be considered "merely incidental" to what is a broader policy change.

The pensions measure would provide a financial lifeline to multiemployer pension plans that risk insolvency. Republicans have opposed what they call a “bailout” of union plans.

The Congressional Budget Office said the new "special financial assistance" program would benefit about 185 pension plans on average, including the 360,000-member Teamsters Central States plan, enabling them to pay full benefits for about three decades.

This economic crisis has hit already struggling pension plans like a wrecking ball, and the retirement security of millions of American workers depends on getting this package across the finish line, Wyden said after Monday's procedural ruling.

The second provision would provide subsidies to make health insurance more affordable under the federal law known as COBRA, which offers continuing employer-sponsored coverage after workers leave their jobs.

The measure would fund 85 percent of workers' premiums through September at a net cost of about $7.8 billion over a decade, according to a CBO estimate of the House bill. The CBO estimated that 2.2 million individuals would obtain COBRA coverage as a result, on a full-year equivalent basis, with 600,000 of those likely to have been uninsured otherwise.

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