Labor Unions Oppose Senate's Health Bill

Friday, 18 Dec 2009 10:17 AM

By Jennifer Haberkorn

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Two politically powerful labor unions came out Thursday against the Senate's health care overhaul bill as Democratic leaders struggled to find a compromise on the measure's abortion language and lock down enough support among their party to move toward a final vote by Christmas Eve.

Moderate Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who wants to ensure that federal money is not used to pay for abortions, said Thursday that he hasn't found a compromise that would win his vote without threatening the support for the bill from liberal, pro-choice members.

Republicans, for their part, threatened to use every procedural trick in their arsenal to stop what they call a historic mistake.

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"The American people are clearly asking us to do everything we can to stop this bill," said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Democratic leaders plan to introduce a final package of amendments in the coming days and quickly start the clock on a series of procedural votes that have to happen before they can vote on the health reform legislation - something they hope to do before Christmas.

With Republicans uniformly opposed to the bill, Democrats need the support of all 60 members of their caucus.

A handful still haven't committed, including Mr. Nelson and Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent. Sens. Jim Webb of Virginia and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas are waiting to hear how the Congressional Budget Office analyzes the legislation before they commit.

Recent changes to the legislation - removing the Medicare expansion and the public insurance plan - moved at least a handful of moderates to support the bill. But they now risk the support of liberal Democrats, such as Mr. Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats. The moves have also angered at least two labor unions that typically support Democrats.

SEIU and AFL-CIO, the nation's largest group of labor unions, said Thursday that they hope to work to repair the Senate bill but that they don't support it in its current state.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called the Senate bill "inadequate" because it is "too kind to the insurance industry." The group said it supports a public insurance plan in order to lower insurance premiums and health costs.

"Because it bends toward the insurance industry, the Senate bill will not check costs in the short term, and its financing asks working people and the country to pay the price, even as benefits are cut," Mr. Trumka said.

Other Democrats say that even if the bill is weaker than what they had first hoped for, they must pass it.

"America can't afford to let the perfect be the enemy of the good," former President Bill Clinton said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. "Take it from someone who knows, these chances don't come around every day."

Health care advocacy group Families USA said Thursday that it endorsed the Senate bill.

"We believe that families across America will benefit enormously from the bill's extensive improvements to our nation's health care system," Executive Director Ron Pollack said. "By contrast, the failure to enact health insurance reform would have disastrous consequences for America's families and businesses."

Abortion also proved to be a last-minute sticking point in the House, where Democratic leaders allowed a last-minute vote to limit abortion access under their health reform legislation.

Sen. Bob Casey, Pennsylvania Democrat, has been trying to craft an abortion compromise with Mr. Nelson. He proposed a series of creative alternatives, such as tax credits to mothers who choose adoption over abortion, to bridge the divide.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC

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