While President Obama signed the health-care reform legislation into law at a jubilant White House ceremony on March 23, grim-faced Republicans geared up for a battle in the Senate over a "reconciliation" package that amends the bill just signed into law. Riding with that reconciliation measure is the fate of a provision that has divided the construction industry.

Health-Care Debate Isn’t Dying Down

That provision, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), was in the Senate-passed version of the bill and thus is now law. It requires construction companies with more than five full-time employees and a payroll of $250,000 or more to offer health-care coverage to their workers or pay a penalty of $750 per employee. The threshold for other industries is 50 full-time workers.

The reconciliation package pending in the Senate would delete the provision, and some construction groups have been blasting the Merkley language and want to see it go. These organizations say the provision singles out the industry that has been hit the hardest by unemployment. “It’s a slap in the face to construction employers,” says Eben Wyman, the National Utility Contractors Association’s vice president for government relations.

Organized labor lobbied hard for the provision and wants it to stay. Jacob Hay, a spokesman for the Laborers International Union of North America, says, “We believe that the health-care legislation has some positive reforms, but to fully impact and benefit construction workers, it needs to include Senator Merkley’s provision…because 65% of construction businesses employ less than five people.”

Republicans planned to raise “points of order” with the Senate Parliamentarian to remove portions of the revisions package that do not relate to budgetary issues. Stanley Kolbe, director of government affairs for the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association, says one item targeted by Republicans is the Merkley language.

If the Senate makes changes in the reconciliation measure, it would have to go to the House for another vote.

Republicans want to go even further. They are vowing to try to repeal the newly enacted health-care measure in its entirety. GOP lawmakers also are pledging vociferously to make health care a central issue in the November elections.

The landmark legislation will provide health coverage to an additional 32 million Americans and cut the deficit...