Tens of thousands call Washington to demand no tax on workers’ benefits

As phones ring off the hook in the nation’s capital with calls from workers angry about a Senate health reform bill that would tax their benefits there are signals coming from both the White House and the Congress that lawmakers are scrambling for a compromise.

The AFL-CIO issued a call today for everyone concerned about health care reform to call 1-877-323-5246 and urge their representatives to support health care reform that does not tax health care benefits, that requires employers to pay their fair share and that reduces costs with a public health insurance option.

It appears the continued push by labor and its allies, coming on the heels of a White House meeting between union leaders and President Obama Monday afternoon, is yielding movement in both the legislative and executive branches of government.

Press reports late yesterday confirmed comments by union leaders earlier in the day that although Obama had repeated his support for some form of a health benefits tax he had expressed his intention to search for a compromise.

Although union leaders at first refused to comment officially on the session, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, late yesterday, that it was “a frank and productive meeting between friends on moving forward on health care reform.”

A union leader who attended the meeting at the White House said it was clear that there is a growing effort in both the House and the White House to find a compromise. Democrats in the House, analysts note, are fearful of how a health care tax would play out in the 2010 elections. Truthout.org reported that it was told by a labor lobbyist that “Freshman and sophomore representatives, the front-line Democrats who are most vulnerable, are freaking out about this.”

Reliable sources say the compromises discussed at the White House meeting included such steps as drastically raising the minimum value of health plans that could be taxed, increasing the inflationary index covering the taxed plans so middle-class families don’t get included and ending the discrimination based on age that’s now permitted.

Among other compromises reportedly under consideration is one that would involve adopting the approach of the House bill that would tax the rich – although at smaller rates than proposed in that body’s bill.

Opposition to the tax on workers’ health care plans runs well beyond the ranks of union members. Rasmussen’s tracking poll on health care reform shows 60 percent of all registered voters opposing the tax and only 32 percent supporting it.

If workers going home during the rush hour last night in Chicago are any indication, the anger is as deep as it is widespread.

Harry Turner, 45, does data entry for Bank of America. At the Van Buren St. Metra station he said, “Now I’m going to be required to carry private health insurance just like I’m required to carry private car insurance. And then, they are telling us that we have to pay more for it. That we have to pay new taxes on it. And they call it health reform? How damn stupid do they think we are?”

Wilma Mason, 37, a librarian, was headed home to the South Side. “I voted for the first time for Obama last year and now I see we are being sold down the river by the big insurance companies and Joe Liebermans and all the rest of them in Washington. I’m beginning to think there is no use. I’m mad as hell about this. If they tax our health benefits they deserve to die.”

It was noted in the Daily Kos today that the first U.S. politician to propose a health benefits tax was Ronald Reagan, when he was president of the United States. He dropped the tax “like a hot potato,” wrote Paul VA, “right after he found opposition to it was almost unanimous. The dream died until later on when conservative hopes for a regressive tax like this would fall on a Democratic President who could carry the ball for them instead.”

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/labor2008/ / CC BY 2.0


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.