WASHINGTON (AP) -- The
Congressional Budget Office on Wednesday released a reduced
estimate of what it might cost to give at least $200,000 to
every nuclear worker exposed to health-robbing levels of
radiation, beryllium or silica.
The government could expect to pay about $1
billion over five years for a program that includes minimum
payments of $200,000 plus medical care, the budget office
A Senate-passed compensation program had been expected to
cost the government at least $2.4 billion for the first five
The Energy Department said about 4,000 of the 600,000
people who worked in the federal weapons complex during the
Cold War might qualify for benefits.
The new cost estimate was lower because it assumed Congress
would not give lump-sum payments to workers with beryllium
sensitivity but not full-blown beryllium disease.
Beryllium is a deadly metal that was used in nuclear
weapons production. Exposure can cause an incurable lung
The new financial estimate also assumed Congress would give
compensation only to sick workers with at least one year of
employment in the nuclear weapons complex, and that Congress
would approve a list of eligible cancers.
While the new cost estimate circulated on Capitol Hill,
private negotiations concerning ways to additionally economize
any new compensation program continued.
House negotiators had proposed limiting compensation to a
maximum of $100,000 rather than a minimum of $200,000, said
congressional aides who have monitored the talks.
The Senate-passed bill had left the maximum benefit
open-ended so workers could recover wages lost because they
got too sick to remain on the job until retirement.
``This is certainly not ideal,'' said Rep. Ted Strickland,
D-Ohio, after being briefed on the status of the House-Senate
``What's under discussion, one of the things that would be
given up is the ability to recover lost wages.''
A Congressional Budget Office estimate of the savings the
government could anticipate by capping the workers' payments
at $100,000, plus medical care, was not immediately available.
The new financial estimates were released as members of a
House-Senate conference committee attempted to wrap up work on
the larger military bill that included the Senate-passed
compensation. The House on Thursday is scheduled to conduct
its first hearing on whether there should be a compensation
Dr. David Michaels, the Energy Department's top health
official, said he thought the hearing would help build support
for conference committee action.
``We expect that to help focus the attention of the House
legislators on the plight of the sick workers,'' he said.
``This is our last chance. Next year will be a new
administration, a new Congress.''
Negotiators on Wednesday were trying to find a way to trim
some other part of the federal budget so they could guarantee
permanent, full funding of benefits for the nuclear workers.
Another sticking point involved which agency would be in
charge of such a program.
The Senate measure put the Labor Department's Office of
Worker Compensation Programs in charge. There was sentiment
among some House negotiators to put the Justice Department in
charge, since that department processes claims for sick
As part of their negotiations, lawmakers were discussing
whether to extend lifetime medical benefits to uranium miners
if such benefits also were granted to bomb factory workers.
The bill numbers are H.R. 675, H.R. 3418, H.R. 3478, H.R.
3495, H.R. 4263, H.R. 4398, HR 5189 and SB 2519
On the Net:
Bill texts: http://thomas.loc/. gov
Justice Department's Radiation Exposure Compensation