- The Washington Times - Monday, September 9, 2013

Sen. John Thune introduced a bill Monday that would thwart the White House from softening the impact of the new health care law on labor unions, a traditional set of White House allies who are rethinking their support for the controversial reforms.

Mr. Thune, South Dakota Republican, filed the Union Bailout Prevention Act amid reports the Obama administration may find a way to grant government subsidies to offset premium costs for those on multiemployer plans, also known as Taft-Hartley plans, which many union members hold.

In midsummer letters to the White House, unions such as the Teamsters have made it clear they will not support the Affordable Care Act unless they obtain the subsidies. More recently, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters he visited the White House to speak about health care, but declined to divulge any specific proposals.

Critics say the unions are trying to parlay their leverage with Democrats into a sweetheart deal to get subsidies on top of employer-based health coverage.

Republicans gleefully have noted the irony of the situation — that early backers of Obamacare now want it amended.

“Now that the full consequences of the Democrats’ law are nearing, these same union leaders are seeking a special backroom deal from the White House,” Mr. Thune said in a statement through the Senate Republican Conference, of which he is chairman. “Rather than take hard-earned money from taxpayers to subsidize union health care plans, the Obama administration should give all Americans a break by permanently delaying this train wreck.”

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Republicans have criticized the Obama administration for granting exemptions and side deals with big business and members of Congress and their staffs.

The administration delayed by one year, to 2015, a mandate requiring firms with 50 or more full-time workers to provide adequate health coverage or pay fines.

House Republicans voted to codify that change into law and match it with a one-year delay to the individual mandate requiring most Americans to obtain some form of health coverage as of 2014, although the Democrat-controlled Senate is unlikely to take up the latter measure.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated Friday that the delay would save the government $35 billion over the next 10 years because without the mandate fewer people would enter the Medicaid program or seek subsidies on state-based insurance exchanges through Obamacare, and Americans would be taxed on compensation that normally would be channeled to health coverage and be tax-exempt.

Conservatives also cried foul at an interpretation by the Office of Personnel Management that said members of Congress and their staffs can keep a federal subsidy that covers up to 75 percent of their insurance premiums, even though a unique provision in the law forces them to acquire coverage on the exchanges and everyday Americans would not get such a generous subsidy to offset their out-of-pocket costs.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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