At a press conference yesterday a liberal House Democrat leading the congressional push against the Senate plan to tax workers' health benefits said the plan would cost Democratic seats in the elections next fall.
"This is a pretty challenging area for candidates to defend," said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., author of a letter signed by 190 House Democrats opposing the tax. "There have been private polls among members that have raised eyebrows" about the tax's impact on their election prospects, he added. "It has great political risk."
Under the Senate-passed bill, the 40 percent excise tax would be imposed on the value of health insurance worth more than $8,500 for an individual and $23,000 for a family.
The provision is firmly opposed by organized labor, with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka having said in the past that it could be a deal-breaker for unions.
"It could also be a deal-breaker for Democrats," said Courtney. "I don't see any weakening of our rank-and-file members about this tax issue."
Meanwhile, union officials speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed that President Obama will meet with them on Monday to discuss the proposed tax. A top aide to a union leader who will be at the meeting said in a phone interview, the labor leaders will "very strongly make the case that any such tax is very bad policy and very bad politics. Such taxes on so-called Cadillac plans will be passed onto workers. The president will be told that this is unacceptable."
The meeting, according to the aide, will include leaders from the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union.
At the press conference Courtney also attacked the plan as one that discriminates against women.
"Longshoremen, along with public safety workers, were the last ones in to get exemptions, as occupational groups" from some of the Senate bill's plan to allow higher charges for high-risk jobs, he said. "But female-dominated occupations - teachers, nurses - didn't get the waivers. I don't see how this bill moves through the House if it's a take-it-or-leave-it attitude from the Senate," he said.
The Communications Workers of America issued a report this week that said, "The excise tax will destabilize the employer-based health care system, resulting in plan terminations, higher costs to workers, and a shift to lower-cost high deductible health plans with limited benefits."
Bill Samuels, the legislative director of the AFL-CIO says he is hopeful that the bill can still be improved. "There's not a lot of room to make changes but we assume they can do so in key areas like how it's paid for and the tax on health care premiums. And even if the ‘public option' turns out not to be possible, there are other ways to hold the insurance companies accountable."
Samuels also called for increasing the $750 per-worker fine that would be levied on employers who don't offer their workers health insurance.
The AFL-CIO is sponsoring a National Call-In Day, Wednesday, Jan. 13, urging everyone to call toll-fee 1-877-3-AFL-CIO and urge their representatives to support the changes it is seeking in the health care legislation moving through Congress.
Rep. Joe Courtney meets Ken Delacruz, president of the Metal Trades Council and John Worobey, president of the Marine Draftsmen Association, representing two union constituencies in Connecticut. http://courtney.house.gov/?sectionid=125§iontree=4,14,125