House Democrats Push Ahead on Medicare Expansion, Family Leave

Sept. 7, 2021, 5:36 PM

House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled key parts of their planned $3.5 trillion bill enacting the bulk of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda and scheduled committee votes on it for the end of the week.

The Ways and Means Committee has proposed a massive expansion of the social safety net, including the coverage of dental, hearing and vision benefits by Medicare. Vision benefits would start in 2022, with hearing benefits beginning in 2023 and dental coverage in 2028.

The legislation also would mandate universal paid family leave, according to text of the bill. Committee votes are expected Thursday and Friday on the draft plan.

The committee has not yet revealed its proposals for tax increases on corporations and the wealthy, which are designed to help pay for new spending in the broader bill. Work on those funding details is expected next week. Ways and Means is also anticipated to take up issues related to Medicaid expansion, Obamacare expansion and drug price cuts next week.

The Democratic plans unveiled Tuesday include a renewal and expansion of Trade Adjustment Assistance payments to workers displaced by increased international trade. A proposal from progressive lawmakers to lower the Medicare eligibility age is not part of the draft.

Universal ‘Perks’

“Later this week, the Ways and Means Committee will put an end to the idea that only some workers are worthy of ‘perks’ like paid leave, child care and assistance in saving for retirement, and finally commit to investments that make these supports fixtures of the American workplace,” Richard Neal, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the panel, said in a statement.

Among other proposals in the plan:

  • An increase in wages for childcare workers
  • A new requirement for employers to automatically enroll employees in retirement plans
  • A funding for recruiting more elder-care workers.

Other House panels plan to hold votes on the Biden agenda the end of this week and the beginning of next to meet a self-imposed Sept. 15 deadline to complete committee work on the president’s plan. Speaker Nancy Pelosi aims to have the House vote on the overall $3.5 trillion package this month, ahead of a separate vote on a bipartisan, $550 billion infrastructure plan.

Democrats in the House and Senate are coordinating closely to enable passage of the bill -- which is to be voted on using a special budget reconciliation procedure that bypasses any Senate Republican filibuster.

The bill must conform with Senate rules and all 50 Democrats and independents in the Senate must vote for the legislation. Last week, West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin called for a “strategic pause” in the development of the bill, raising doubts about the ability of Congress to complete it anytime soon.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Erik Wasson in Washington at ewasson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net

Megan Scully, Christopher Anstey

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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