Union pulls back on supporting bill

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) backed out of an event with other organizations promoting the Senate healthcare reform bill Wednesday over concerns about changes made to the legislation to accommodate centrist Democrats.

The SEIU had planned to participate in a Capitol Hill press conference along with the AARP, the liberal advocacy group Families USA, Consumers Union and the American Cancer Society Action Network. As recently as Tuesday morning, the organizations distributed an advisory to the news media that included the SEIU.

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But the move by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to excise provisions of the healthcare reform bill to create a government-run public option health insurance program and to allow people between 55 and 64 years old to buy into Medicare gave the labor union pause, spokeswoman Lori Lodes said.

"That decision has to be made by our leaders and our members," Lodes said. The event with the AARP and the other groups was scheduled before Reid made changes to the bill.

The SEIU executive board will hold what Lodes described as an "emergency" meeting Wednesday night to decide how to move forward. "Right now, they don't have the information they need to make this decision," said Lodes, who added that the SEIU informed the other organizations on Tuesday they would not be joining the press conference.

The board meeting likely will not produce a final determination by the union about whether to support advancing the Senate healthcare bill, which not only lacks a public option and the Medicare buy-in but also would levy an excise tax on so-called Cadillac health insurance plans that some union members have, Lodes said.

"We will not have an absolute decision coming," largely because Reid has not released the final language of the healthcare bill, she said.