The $940-billion health care “corrections” bill that House Democrats unveiled on March 18 strikes the Merkley amendment that has stirred controversy in the construction industry, according to several sources familiar with the bill, including Associated General Contractors’ senior director of legislative affairs Jeff Shoaf.
The language sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (R-Ore.) in the Senate-passed bill requires construction firms with six or more employees and a payroll of $250,000 or more to provide health care insurance to their employees or pay a penalty per employee. The threshold for small businesses in other industries is 50 employees.
The “fix” in the reconciliation package means that all small businesses would be treated equally, and construction firms would not be singled out.
While the House “corrections” bill strikes the Merkley language, the provision remains in the Senate-passed bill, and it is anyone’s guess as to whether the measure would become law if the health care overhaul were enacted.
The Senate Parliamentarian could rule that the provision removing Merkley does not relate to budgetary matters and “scrub” the text from the bill, unless there are 60 votes to retain it in the Senate.
Meanwhile, President Obama cancelled a scheduled trip to Asia to be able to shore up Democratic votes in the House .
Democratic leaders are hopeful that the Congressional Budget Office “score” of the reconciliation bill wins over a few jittery Democrats concerned about the overall cost of the package.
The preliminary CBO score, also unveiled March 18, says the legislation would be fully paid for by reducing health care costs. The CBO says the $940-billion bill would cut the deficit by $138 billion in the first 10 years and by $1.2 trillion in the second ten years, and reduce annual growth in Medicare expenditures by 1.4 percentage points per year. These estimates are far rosier than some critics had predicted, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that the CBO numbers should garner more support for the package. Still, “It is a heavy lift,” she acknowledged.
Lawmakers are predicting a House vote for Sunday.Stay tuned….