“The Chamber is gravely concerned by the process and the product thus far,” Randal K. Johnson, a Chamber vice president, said in testimony prepared for the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “As badly as reform is needed, we cannot support reform just for the sake of reform.”
Dear Chairman Rangel and Ranking Member Camp:The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business federation representing more than three million businesses and organizations of every size, sector and region, urges Congress to pass reasonable, sound health reform legislation this year. However, the Chamber strongly opposes “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009” in its current form.While the Chamber is still reviewing the more than 1,000 pages of this legislation, many serious problems have already become evident. In its current form, this bill would greatly increase taxes on American businesses and families, do little to address the rising costs of health care, and restrict choice or force Americans to lose the health care coverage they have.
On the other side, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was joining the fray Wednesday, beginning to air 30-second spots in about 20 states criticizing the Democratic proposal to offer optional government health coverage, according to R. Bruce Josten, executive vice president of the nation’s largest business group.
The absence of a bipartisan package from the Finance Committee will trigger intense anti-healthcare-reform jockeying during the upcoming recess, the letter strongly hints.
“The Chamber also believes that it is important for the [Finance] Committee to act promptly, preferably before the August recess, to approve a bipartisan bill consistent with these principles, as it is now apparent that we will be forced to oppose the legislation being considered by the House. The business community vitally needs better policy alternatives to be proposed by Congress,” the letter says.
“The Chamber applauds your commitment to develop a comprehensive plan that garners bipartisan support in the United States Senate. Restructuring one-sixth of the U.S. economy is too important to pursue on a one-party basis,” says the letter, signed by Bruce Josten, the Chamber’s chief lobbyist.
“Unfortunately, the U.S. House has done just that. Some fear that broad-scale public support for healthcare reform will wane over the August recess because the only detailed legislative proposal that has been adopted is the product being considered in the House. The House proposal will not generate widespread public support and moves in the wrong direction.”
The threat of a wide-scale war between business and healthcare interest groups against healthcare reform is far from idle. Most special interests have not used heavy artillery as healthcare reform has advanced this year — a stark contrast to previous efforts in the 1990s and earlier — as they seek to influence the legislation. Indeed, drug companies, hospitals and other sectors have made explicit cost-cutting pledges to Baucus and Obama.
The business community has long thought that any bill born of Baucus’s committee would be the one they most likely could support. If Baucus fails to achieve a bipartisan deal or if Democrats signal they will reject what he presents, the Chamber and other interest groups will be significantly less inclined to restrain campaigns to stop legislation from moving forward.
“We do not believe that the government plan will be a fair competitor,” says the letter, which also contends that the House bill does too little to reduce healthcare spending and would place an undue burden on companies by mandating that most offer health benefits.
Big business’s support for Baucus’s attempts at dealmaking with Republicans stands in stark contrast to the posture of liberal Democrats toward the process.
During an appearance on a radio show hosted by liberal commentator Bill Press, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) suggested that Baucus was not making progress and that he should give up talking with Republicans.