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Union leaders say they're happy with health-care deal

By Alec MacGillis
The country's top union officials spoke glowingly Thursday afternoon of the agreement they had reached with the White House and congressional Democrats to delay an excise tax that will target high-cost health insurance plans.

They also defended the deal against the charge, already being voiced by Republicans, that unions got a special deal for their own members.

Senate Democrats wanted the excise tax to pay for part of the expansion in health care coverage. Unions have opposed the so-called "Cadillac tax" because they argued that it would hit not only lavish plans for high earners but also the plans of many middle-class workers.

But Republicans noted that one element of the deal exempts only union members and state and local government workers until 2018 from a surtax on any health benefits that exceed a certain threshold.

Rep. John Kline (Minn.) called the deal a giveaway to labor. "This latest backroom maneuver is yet another example of how the administration and their enablers in Congress will cut deals with their special interest allies to impose a government takeover of health care," he said.

Challenged about the carve-out in a conference call with reporters, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka denied that the deal represented a special deal for unions, noting that the other concessions in the agreement applied to all workers, whether unionized or not. The five-year exemption was needed, he said, to allow unions and their employers to renegotiate long-term contracts to move into lower-cost plans that would fall under the threshold for the tax.

"We think we've done a great job for all working Americans out there, and that includes union members," he said.

Trumka outlined the other concessions union leaders secured from the White House:

-- Raising the threshold at which family plans are taxed from $23,000 to $24,000 and for single plans from $8,500 to $8,900, with the threshold increasing annually at the rate of inflation plus 1 percent;

-- Further raising the threshold if health care costs grow faster than expected from 2010-2013;

-- Exempting dental and vision costs from the tax, beginning in 2015; and

-- Raising the threshold for plans that have significant numbers of women or older workers;

Union leaders fretted earlier this week that the tax on high-cost plans, if left unchanged, would depress enthusiasm among organized labor leading up to the 2010 midterm elections. But they voiced confidence Thursday that their members would embrace the health care legislation under the new terms.

"We will be able to motivate our members," said Trumka.

Anna Burger, head of the rival Change to Win coalition that includes the Service Employees International, Teamsters and several others, echoed Trumka. "The compromises we reached in the last 24 hours make a huge difference in making sure that workers who have good health care can hold on to their health care," she said.

The union officials said they were struck by the heavy involvement of President Obama in the talks the past several days, which included Trumka, Burger and five other union leaders.

Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said Obama laid out in an initial meeting with union officials on Monday what he wanted in the legislation, including an excise tax strong enough to capture more high-cost plans over time. But he was otherwise "open-minded in terms of the things he would agree to," McEntee said.

In the subsequent days, White House aide Jim Messina served as the main conduit to the labor leaders involved in the talks, while Obama himself moved among different groups of senators and House members gathered at the White House.

"Everybody worked hard and diligently to find answers around this," McEntee said.

By Alec MacGillis  |  January 14, 2010; 7:19 PM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency , Health Care  
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Next: Mass. Senate race reminds union leader of Dukakis's 1988 campaign

Comments

" Gee we union members get to sit on the top deck of the Titanic now so that we get to sink later. And for this we are to be grateful?"

Posted by: chemistmike | January 15, 2010 2:33 PM

----------------------------------------------------

Well said, well said. It's not just union members. It also includes Nebraska and Louisiana and other special group interests. Do they even know more tests can sometimes give us higher chances of cancer? Every body has the same physiology. Why is your body in need of almost twice as much to insure than ours?

For one thing, some union leaders in the photos need to lose some weight. No dollar amount can make you healthier if you don't move around more.

Posted by: dummy4peace | January 18, 2010 6:55 PM | Report abuse

Support Obama and you don't have to pay taxes.
Support Obama and you can get exempt from what the rest of the peasants have to do.

Posted by: HawkSprings | January 18, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

Of course the unions are happy. The bill gives unions a privileged exemption from having to pitch in on all of this crucial "national sacrifice" stuff.

How did Orwell's famous pig rulers say it in the novel Animal Farm? "All animals are equal, except some animals are more equal."

Obama, Pelosi, Reid (Reverend Wright, and Saul Alinsky), plus the Democratic Party = Animal Farm.

2010 is going to be a screamer for democrats.

So much for the new era of progressivism.

Hiss, fizzle - pop. Done.

Posted by: Parker1227 | January 17, 2010 4:14 AM | Report abuse

oh yeah...no special interest group getting anything here! Good Lord, if Republicans tried this, they'd be thrown out on their ear. If this happened in the private sector (bribes, closed door deals and bending over for special interest groups)they'd go to prison. Only in the Obama kingdom can you run the white house like the mafia and no one says Boo??

Posted by: ACfromDC | January 16, 2010 7:58 AM | Report abuse

I am a union member with a wonderful health insurance program that pays for my heart transplant and the medicines needed for my survival ( approx $2000/month)
However, most of those union leaders who so readily hob nob with the Goldman-Sachs, Hollywood and Wall Street crowd are millionares whose income is not affected by trends in unemployment or lowering of the standards of their members. Like any aristocratic , elite plutocrat, these leaders forget their hard-working constituency. Now elevated to the nobility, they forget the peasntry from whence they came and assume the hubris of the elite. And so they have relegated their members to be the last in line for a hold-up,. We are to be sacrificed, fleeced and plundered later, rather than sooner to appease the elite aristocracy in Congress,The white House and Wall street.
We have been betrayed, first by Nafta and the free traders in Washungton, later by the Cap and Traders who will decimate American industries with their punitive tax and ration scheme based upon the 1/3 of one percent of the atmosphere;carbon dioxide. Meanwhile Goldman Sachs and the wall street firms will be lucratively trading these carbon ration cards for a ruse and a lie. Now we are to be further plundered in financing this health care sceme that only empowers government bureaucrats. Gee we union members get to sit on the top deck of the Titanic now so that we get to sink later. And for this we are to be grateful?

Posted by: chemistmike | January 15, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

When this comes down to the last job these union members will be remembered and they will be the last ones rehired. They created this mess in the first place by having such benefit rich plans and will pay in the end for their association with goons and social hacks that are trying to bring down the whole capitalist system. I wanted to buy American made products but when you force your political connections on the rest of working Americans you will get payed back in Aces. Good luck getting back your precious jobs nobody will hire a union member ever again because they don't play fair.

Posted by: matchstick1222 | January 15, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

AMERICAN'S COMPLACENCY HAS BROUGHT THIS ON!!! LEARN THE TRUTH ABOUT AMERICA!!!

www.AMERICAWAKEUPNOW.net

Posted by: AMERICAWAKEUPNOW | January 15, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

AMERICAN'S COMPLACENCY HAS BROUGHT THIS ON!!! LEARN THE TRUTH ABOUT AMERICA!!!

www.AMERICAWAKEUPNOW.net

Posted by: AMERICAWAKEUPNOW | January 15, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

This is just one more great reason to impeach this mystery man with no birth certificate! What if he is not qualified to hold the Oval Office? Everything he has done will be illegal! I hope this is proven, and he is frog-walked to his cell by the Secret Service!

Posted by: churchlionjudah | January 15, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

With every one of his lowdown dirty underhanded deals, Obama sells the soul of America. He should be impeached today!

Posted by: churchlionjudah | January 15, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

Why shouldn't the union members be happy? They are the highest paid and least productive of America's workers, and they are getting a benefit denied to the people who really work for a living. But Obama will not always be able to give them undeserved benefits!

Posted by: churchlionjudah | January 15, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

parker writes:It is just about the perfect compromise for all sides. Sort of makes you wonder why no one had hashed this out earlier. It satisfies the centrists disdain for organized labor while at the same time shielding the middle-class from taxes on their own insurance.

-who are you kidding ???, Unions get exempted til 2018 ? what about everyone who is non-union ?? Union pigs at the white house trough ..AGAIN.

Posted by: snapplecat07 | January 14, 2010 10:14 PM | Report abuse

It is just about the perfect compromise for all sides. Sort of makes you wonder why no one had hashed this out earlier. It satisfies the centrists disdain for organized labor while at the same time shielding the middle-class from taxes on their own insurance.

http://www.political-buzz.com/

Posted by: parkerfl1 | January 14, 2010 7:29 PM | Report abuse

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