WASHINGTON-The debate over national health care legislation heated to near-boiling in early June, as Congressional committees struggled to pass their health care bills before the July 4 recess. Liberal Democrats in the House and Senate continued to insist that employers pay the bulk of universal health care coverage, whereas Republicans and business interests vowed opposition to any employer mandates.
The Senate Education and Labor Committee passed its version of health care reform June 9 by an 11-6 vote. This bill, sponsored by committee Chairman Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., retains the Clinton administration proposal that employers pay 80 percent of their employees' health insurance premiums.
Employers with 20 or fewer employees would be exempt from paying premiums under the Kennedy bill. Those with up to 10 employees would pay a 1 percent payroll tax instead, and those with 11 to 20 would pay a 2 percent tax.
Senate Republicans and even some Democrats criticized the Kennedy bill for being too bureaucratic and expensive for employers. The Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee are working on their own health care bills, both including the Clinton employer mandate, but both bills face staunch opposition from committee Republicans and moderate Democrats.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce held a press conference at the Capitol June 8, calling on members of Congress and congressional candidates to sign an ``Employer Protection Pledge'' on health care.
Legislators who sign the pledge promise to:
Oppose any mandate for employers to pay health care benefits;
Oppose any new taxes to pay for health care; and
Oppose any expansion of government bureaucracy to deal with health care.
``Our objective, pure and simple, is to make certain health care reform is market-based and focused on real problems in the system,'' said William C. Marcil, Chamber of Commerce chairman. ``There are literally thousands of businesses that simply cannot survive a health insurance mandate.''
A number of GOP legislators who already have signed the pledge appeared at the press conference, including House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich of Georgia and Senators Connie Mack of Florida, Conrad Burns of Montana and Paul Coverdell of Georgia.
Mr. Gingrich ridiculed the House Ways and Means health care bill, calling it ``Clinton No. 5 or 6.'' He quoted a study by the administration of Gov. Pete Wilson, R-Calif., stating California alone would lose 650,000 jobs as a direct result of the Clinton plan.