Obama Meets With House Democrats, Voices Support for Excise Tax
On Wednesday, President Obama met for the second consecutive day with congressional Democratic leaders to work out the differences between the House and Senate health reform bills (HR 3962, HR 3590), the Wall Street Journal reports (Adamy/Meckler, Wall Street Journal, 1/7). The meeting was attended by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the chairs of three House committees that have jurisdiction over elements of health reform (Herszenhorn, New York Times, 1/7).
According to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the president's message to the members was "get it done" (Wall Street Journal, 1/7).
House Ways and Means Committee Chair Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said, "The president has been very patient with his time and understanding that we have to get 218 votes, and we really have to be able to sell it -- not just to our Democratic caucus, but to the American people" (New York Times, 1/7).
According to the Journal, the "most significant" proposal likely to survive from the House legislation is the bill's more generous financial support for lower-income U.S. residents in obtaining insurance.
The House bill gives more U.S. residents access to Medicaid, provides larger health care subsidies to U.S. residents with low incomes, and goes further to reduce out-of-pocket expenses.
The subsidies in the House bill would cost $602 billion over 10 years, while the subsidies in the Senate bill would cost $436 billion.
A White House official on Wednesday said that Obama would support the House's effort to make coverage more affordable (Wall Street Journal, 1/7).
Obama Backs Excise Tax
During the meeting, Obama urged the House Democrats to drop their opposition to an excise tax on high-cost insurance plans -- a key feature of the Senate bill.
Under the Senate legislation, so-called "Cadillac" plans with annual premiums greater than $8,500 for an individual and $23,000 for a family would be subject to a 40% excise tax.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the excise tax would raise $149 billion over 10 years (New York Times, 1/7).
Many House Democrats and organized labor -- a key Democratic constituency -- are strongly opposed to the excise tax, which they say would go against Obama's campaign pledge not to tax the middle class because it would unfairly affect union workers who often negotiate increased benefits instead of higher wages.
The House bill calls for a surtax on individuals whose annual incomes are more than $500,000 and on couples whose annual incomes are more than $1 million (Werner, AP/Chicago Tribune, 1/7).
Following the meeting, Pelosi said the excise tax is "not a very popular initiative in the House or in the public. It's something the president is committed to, and we'll see how it works out" (Frates, "Live Pulse," Politico, 1/6).According to the AP/Chicago Tribune, it is likely that the House eventually will accept the excise tax -- possibly starting with plans costing upward of $25,000, with special provisions put in place for certain workers -- "but it might not happen without a fight" (AP/Chicago Tribune, 1/7). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.