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Obama Reportedly Tells Union Leaders He May Compromise On Health Insurance Tax

This morning’s newspapers have few details on yesterday’s meeting between top labor leaders and President Obama regarding the Senate’s proposed tax on “Cadillac” health benefits, among other issues related to healthcare reform. Only the New York Times (1/12, A13, Stolberg, Greenhouse) has quotes from an anonymous Administration official hinting that the President intends to offer a comprise to his union supporters, though even the Times’ report lacks specifics on what form such a deal might take. The Times reports Obama “told union leaders at a private White House meeting…that he remained committed to taxing high-cost insurance policies as a way to drive down health costs,” but “he also signaled that he was willing to amend the proposal to ‘make this work for working families,’ a senior administration official said.” According to the Times, Obama “and the union officials used Monday’s session to search for a sort of compromise.”

        Fox News’ Special Report (1/11, Baier) reported that “organized labor is strongly opposed to a new tax on some healthcare plans, a tax the President needs to pay the cost of reform. … The issue, Senate plans to slap a 40% tax on health benefits, valued at $8,000 for individuals and $23,000 for families. A top union official said this scheme punishes working families.” AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka: “The Senate bill taxes the middle class by taxing workers’ health plans, not just union members’ healthcare plan. The Senate bill pits working Americans who need healthcare for their families, against working Americans struggling to keep healthcare for their families.” Fox added that “opponents of the Senate plan also say the tax on benefit undermines President Obama’s repeated promise that if you like your existing healthcare plan, you can keep it and not worry about big changes. Taxing benefits, critics say, will result in higher premiums or lower benefits.”

        The AP (1/12, Werner) describes the labor leaders as “irate,” and reports that Trumka “said there was a frank discussion at the nearly two-hour White House meeting with about a dozen heads of the country’s biggest labor unions.” Trumka also “warned that Democrats risk catastrophic election defeats similar to 1994 if they fail to come up with a health bill labor likes. ‘A bad bill could have that kind of effect – a place where people sit at home’ — as happened in 1994…Trumka told reporters.” The AP notes that Trumka “stopped short of saying labor would actively oppose the bill if it included the tax.” Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Firefighters, “made similarly threatening remarks in a statement Monday” that read: “The president’s support for the excise tax is a huge disappointment and cannot be ignored. … We will hold him accountable.”

        The Washington Post (1/12, A3, MacGillis) says that “while Obama has pleased unions on several fronts, he has done little to push labor’s biggest priority, the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to organize,” and during the 2008 campaign, Obama “rallied union members’ support by repeatedly attacking a proposal by Sen. John McCain to lift the tax exemption for employer-provided health benefits.”

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January 12, 2010 - Posted by | Federal Government, healthcare, insurance | , , , ,

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