May 22, 2002
Ohio senators buck party on steel benefits
By PAUl M. KRAWZAK
Copley Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON — Republican Sens. Mike DeWine and George Voinovich joined an unsuccessful effort Tuesday to provide temporary health benefits to retired steelworkers whose former employers went out of business.
The plan they supported would have provided a temporary replacement to company-paid health insurance for retirees who worked for struggling steel companies that have gone out of business. It would have paid for 70 percent of the cost of health insurance for one year for retired workers who lost their retirement benefits. The estimated cost: $177 million.
Across the nation, 125,000 retired steelworkers and dependents have lost their company-paid health benefits, including more than
80,000 who worked for LTV Steel before it closed, backers of the bill said. In Ohio, 32,000 retirees have lost benefits.
About three-fourths of the retired workers are 65 or older and have Medicare, the federal health insurance for older Americans.
They use the company benefits to pay for prescriptions and other expenses not covered by Medicare.
“Ultimately we will win this fight,” said Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle, D-S.D. “Ultimately those steelworkers will get help. This is just the beginning, not the end.”
The effort, led by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., failed even though it appeared that a majority of the Senate supported the plan.
The Senate voted 56-40 to end a Republican-led filibuster that was launched to prevent a vote on the benefits. The tally fell four
votes short of the 60 needed to cut off debate and force a vote on the plan.
DeWine and Voinovich were among a handful of Republican senators from steel-producing states, such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, who supported the aid. Almost all Democratic senators backed it.
“It shows strong support for the steel benefit,” DeWine said of the majority backing to end the filibuster. “I think it bodes well for the
future. There will be attempts in the future to get this on other bills.”
Voinovich, a co-sponsor of the amendment, said the temporary benefits would have given retirees some time to find replacement
“Many of these people affected are widows and seniors with limited pensions who are frightened at this stage and don’t know where
to go,” he said in a prepared statement.
Rockefeller suggested one way to get the benefits passed is through the appropriations process. Later in the year, the House and Senate appropriations committees will allocate the actual funding for federal programs after other committees develop spending
DeWine, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said it is “certainly a possibility” that the funding could be added in the
appropriations process, as Rockefeller suggested. But it won’t be easy, he added. When an appropriations committee adds spending,
it has to remove other spending, he explained.
Republican opponents argued the plan would provide benefits to a select group of retired workers — benefits that would be paid for
by other Americans who in many cases do not have health insurance themselves.
“If we’re going to do this for steelworkers, why don’t we do it for textile workers?” said Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., who opposed the
plan. “Why don’t we do it for auto workers. Why don’t we do it for airline workers? All those industries have lost thousands of jobs.”
The administration also opposed the plan. In fact, Rockefeller said that if it weren’t for furious lobbying from the White House over
the weekend, the aid plan would have passed.
Administration officials said Bush opposed the plan because it was getting in the way of the Senate’s acting on the trade bill, which
would give him the authority to negotiate trade bills that the Senate could reject but not modify.
“The Senate needs to act quickly on the trade measures and not add unrelated amendments to the trade bill that could impede
progress ... passing the trade legislation,” Bush spokeswoman Claire Buchan said.