Senate may pass ObamaCare tweak in unemployment bill

The Senate this week is on track to pass a five-month extension of unemployment benefits that might also include a bipartisan tweak to ObamaCare.

Senate Democrats are using a House-passed bill, H.R. 3979, as a vehicle to carry their unemployment extension.

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In the House, that bill was the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act. The House passed this bill back in March, along with two other bills creating new ObamaCare exemptions.

The legislation is aimed at ensuring volunteer firefighters and emergency services workers do not have to be offered health insurance under ObamaCare. Supporters say requiring insurance for these volunteers would create financial hardships that could threaten the provision of emergency services.

Democrats in the Senate stripped H.R. 3979 of this ObamaCare language to use the bill as a shell to carry the unemployment deal. But on Monday, a bipartisan group of senators that includes Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) introduced a substitute amendment that tacks the ObamaCare proposal onto the end of the unemployment bill.

The language on volunteer emergency service workers is found in Section 12 of the amendment.

Passage of the legislation in this form would force House Republicans to decide how to proceed. GOP leaders favor the new ObamaCare exemption but have been much more cool to the idea of extended unemployment benefits.

Republican leaders have said they would consider an unemployment bill, but only if it includes proposals aimed at getting people back to work.

Reid's substitute amendment is co-sponsored by nine senators, including GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Dean Heller (Nev.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Rob Portman (Ohio).