Onerous Health Care Provision for Small Builders in Senate’s Hands
The House late Sunday evening voted 219 to 212 to approve Senate-passed health care bill H.R. 3590. The measure — which includes a provision by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) targeting small businesses in the construction industry — was expected to be signed into law shortly by President Obama.
However, immediately after passing the bill, the House approved an accompanying package of revisions (H.R 4872) by a similar 220 to 211 margin that effectively eliminates the Merkley provision. That package now goes to the Senate under special reconciliation rules that require only a simple majority to pass.
The green light for the health care votes came last week after the Congressional Budget Office announced that the $940 billion revision package is anticipated to save $138 billion in the first 10 years and $1.2 trillion in the second decade.
With Republicans united in opposition to the health care legislation, Democratic leaders were scrambling to find the 216 votes needed for passage right up to the decisive vote on March 21.
In the days and weeks before the vote, NAHB aggressively targeted key House Democrats to urge them to oppose H.R. 3590, which contains an initiative by Merkley that requires construction firms to provide health coverage if they employ more than five workers. Small businesses in every other industry would be exempt from providing mandatory health insurance if they employ 50 workers or less.
Last week, NAHB sent out an all-member alert urging the grassroots to call their representatives and insist that they oppose H.R. 3590, because of the unfair Merkley language.
On the day of the House vote, NAHB sent a letter to every member of Congress designating a vote in opposition to H.R. 3590 as a key vote “given the detrimental impact H.R. 3590 will have on the home building industry.”
Although H.R. 4872 would “fix” certain provisions in H.R. 3590, including striking the Merkley provision, NAHB fought to oppose H.R. 3590 because of the possibility that the reconciliation package could somehow fail, leaving the onerous requirement for small builders in place.
The Senate is expected to consider H.R. 4872 this week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) claims to have the backing of a majority of senators to get the bill through, but Republicans opposed to the measure are expected to attempt to derail the package through a series of procedural maneuvers. If the Senate makes any change to the bill, it will delay its passage and force it to go back to the House.
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For more information, e-mail Carlos Gutierrez at NAHB, or call him at 800-368-5242 x8242.