Lobbying battle over contractor healthcare to come after bill passes

A fiercely debated provision that would have expanded healthcare coverage for construction workers has been jettisoned out of the final reform bill.

But that will only sideline the lobbying battle between unions and business associations on the measure. After Congress finishes up the healthcare legislation, labor leaders have promised to push for it again, which is likely to draw opposition from several trade groups representing the construction industry.

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At stake is a provision, backed by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), that was added to the Senate version of the healthcare reform bill. The measure would have required construction companies with annual payrolls valued at more than $250,000 and more than five employees to provide healthcare insurance to their workers.

According to a union official, the provision was removed last week because it could not be passed through the Senate via the reconciliation process. Instead, labor groups have secured a commitment from the White House that the administration will try to move the provision through another legislative vehicle once the healthcare bill is passed, said the official.

A spokesman for Merkley said his provision will be come up again in Congress.

“As for the future of the amendment, Senator Merkley is currently focused on passing healthcare reform but this is an issue that will be revisited,” Mike Westling, Merkley’s press secretary, said.

That will likely reignite heavy lobbying against it on Capitol Hill by business associations like the National Association of Home Builders and the Associated General Contractors of America.

Those groups pushed against the provision, arguing it unfairly targeted construction companies. The groups said it would remove the small business exemption from the employer mandate just for the construction industry.



Unions representing construction workers, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the AFl-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department, have lobbied hard for the measure. They argue it’s necessary because the vast majority of construction firms do not have to provide healthcare coverage because of the small business exemption.


The measure was removed as Democrats sought to make final changes to the bill this week to improve its score by the Congressional Budget Office and to determine what can pass muster via reconciliation.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka was called to the White House Wednesday to meet with President Barack Obama to discuss changes that were made to a healthcare reform agreement with labor leaders back in January. Tweaks were made again to a tax on high-cost insurance plans opposed by unions and the Merkley provision was removed.

On a conference call with reporters Thursday, Trumka said the healthcare reform bill is just the beginning, not the end. He promised that unions would lobby for more changes to the package after it passed, including the Merkley provision.

“We will continue to work to pass Merkley because we think it is good policy,” Trumka said.