Labor leaders pitch health bill concerns to Obama

By Humberto Sanchez CongressDaily January 11, 2010

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on Monday said Congress must pass healthcare reform but criticized the Senate package, which would fund the legislation by imposing a 40 percent excise tax on health plans costing more than $8,500 for single coverage or $23,000 for family coverage.

Trumka and other union leaders are meeting with President Obama Monday afternoon to discuss their concerns with the measure. Labor leaders have been wary of the Senate tax provision, which they contend would hit union members and other middle-class workers.

House and Senate Democratic leaders are working to reconcile differences between their bills, but the compromise might have to incorporate much of the Senate bill to win all 60 Democratic votes in the Senate.

"The tax on benefits in the Senate bill pits working Americans who need health care for their families against working Americans struggling to keep health care for their families," Trumka said in a speech at the National Press Club. "This is a policy designed to benefit elites -- in this case, insurers, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and irresponsible employers, at the expense of the broader public."

He added that unions were "fighting with everything we've got to win healthcare reform that is worthy of the support of working men and women."

Trumka praised a House healthcare bill, which would be paid for with a 5.4 percent surtax on single taxpayers with an adjusted gross income of more than $500,000 and joint filers with an income of at least $1 million.

"On the one hand, we have the House bill, which asks the small part of our country that has prospered in the last decade -- the richest of the rich -- to pay a little bit more in taxes so that most Americans can have health insurance," Trumka said.

In addition, Trumka called on Congress to pass jobs-creation legislation to help the economy grow and for a second round of economic stimulus money.

"Some in Washington say when it comes to jobs, 'Go slow -- take half steps.' These voices are harming millions of unemployed Americans and their families, but they are also jeopardizing our economic recovery," Trumka said.

Also on organized labor's wish list are financial regulatory reform and an overhaul of immigration policy, Trumka said.