Cantor jabs at Obama over excise tax in letter

The second-ranking House Republican wrote President Barack Obama late Friday, needling the deal the administration struck with labor leaders on healthcare.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) wrote Obama to ask about a deal the White House reached with unions to include an excise tax on high-value insurance plans in the healthcare bill facing Congress.

Cantor asked Obama whether the deal, which exempts from the tax until later this decade some health plans arranged under collective bargaining agreements, would be extended to lawmakers and federal employees. The letter meant to question whether the agreements would unfairly benefit federal workers.

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"While the reported deal is bad enough for working Americans, I am concerned that the deal that was negotiated behind closed doors may also have been designed to benefit federal government officials and employees at the expense of other Americans." Cantor wrote.

The Virginia Republican asked whether the plans enjoyed by members of Congress, administration officials, and other political officials would be exempt from the tax, as well as whether federal employees' benefits would be free of the tax "in the same manner as those covered under collective bargaining agreements." The question was pointedly meant to explore whether a double-standard for federal employees' plans does, in fact, exist.

The excise tax had been one of the key sticking points in healthcare negotiations for Democrats. Labor groups had steadfastly opposed the tax along with many House Democrats, out of concern that union health plans would be disproportionately affected by the tax. Both had preferred the income tax on millionaires included in the House bill over the excise tax and other fees opted for in the Senate version of the legislation.

But union leaders and House Democrats conceded to the tax on Thursday after reaching tentative agreements to "carve out" elements of those plans from the reach of the tax. 

Republicans have long opposed all of the taxes in the House and Senate bills, and Cantor used the letter to jab at the president and Democrats on more than just taxes.

"I regret that I am forced to send this letter. I do not believe it would be necessary if you and your Administration had televised the health care negotiations on C-SPAN, as you committed to during the campaign," Cantor wrote, in reference to the non-partisan network's effort to hold Obama to a promise to televise healthcare talks.


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