Free Markets, Free People


Health Care – Plans To Exempt Unions, Tax Others

No “gold plated” care for you – unless you’re in a union.

Yes, friends, it’s payback time in the health care legislation world. Bloomberg reports:

The U.S. Senate proposal to impose taxes for the first time on “gold-plated” health plans may bypass generous employee benefits negotiated by unions.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, the chief congressional advocate of taxing some employer-provided benefits to help pay for an overhaul of the U.S. health system, says any change should exempt perks secured in existing collective- bargaining agreements, which can be in place for as long as five years.

The exception, which could make the proposal more politically palatable to Democrats from heavily unionized states such as Michigan, is adding controversy to an already contentious debate. It would shield the 12.4 percent of American workers who belong to unions from being taxed while exposing some other middle-income workers to the levy.

This is how they manage to get at your health care plan. Baucus wants to tax any health care benefit that is more costly than those provided federal employees. Those costs are about $4,200 for individuals and $13,000 for families. The claim is they again want to go after the “rich” who have “gold plated” plans. And the example in the Bloomberg article is the $40,543 in health benefits paid to Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive of New York-based Goldman Sachs Group Inc., the fifth largest U.S. bank.

Of course that threshold will also affect people much lower on the financial totem pole than Lloyd Blankfein. For example:

It can also affect companies such as Henderson, Nevada- based, where workers’ $11 per hour pay is supplemented by employer-paid health insurance plans worth about $7,500.

So immediately you have an $11 an hour employee liable for $495 at 15% of the difference. But remember, your taxes won’t go up by a dime. Not a single dime.

Why the desire to exempt unions? Well it gets a favored constituency off their back, is a measure of payback for their support and union members can then enjoy their “gold plated” coverage while $11 an hour workers pay the freight. Don’t believe unions have gold plated coverage. Try this example:

Sandra Carter, a retired Pacific Bell Telephone Co. technician from Stockton, California, said her health benefits, worth about $12,000 per year, were negotiated by the Communications Workers of America. She is unmarried with no children, meaning her individual coverage exceeds benefits paid to federal workers by about $7,800. If that amount were taxed at the 15 percent marginal rate, she would owe $1,170.

“I can’t afford the taxes I pay now,” said Carter, who said she suffers from diabetes. “Why should I get taxed on a benefit that keeps me a functioning person?”

Gee Ms Carter, why should anyone? Why is it any business of the government to limit the coverage to $4,200 and tax the rest. Who is Max Baucus, or anyone, to arbitrarily set the insurance limit at $4,200 for individuals and $13,000 for families and punish those who have better plans through taxation?

I would guess, however, Ms Carter is fine with unions being exempted and also fine with others being taxed in her stead.

Most unions, of course, see themselves as the exceptions deserving of such exemptions:

Anna Burger, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, said in an interview that workers have often traded salary increases for better benefits in agreements.

Taxes “shouldn’t be taken from the backs of workers who have bargained away wages and other things for their benefits over the years,” Burger said.

But it is ok if others who’ve negotiated the same sort of exchange privately get nailed, eh Ms Burger? It’s not the principle, it’s the exception which is important here apparently.

To their credit, some unions are actually standing on principle:

“Either way, we are against a tax on health-care benefits in whatever form it takes,” said Jacob Hay, spokesman for the Laborers’ International Union of North America. The union represents 500,000 workers, largely in the construction industry.

Special interest democracy – political payback – so blatant now that you don’t even have to wonder if it is being done. Democrats are shameless in their pursuit of it. If you’re in a favored group, your ship has come in.


Rising Thugocracy?

First we have the “car czar” threatening investors with audits and vilification, and now we have a report that a union was inappropriately involved in matters in which it should not have been included:

Officials in the governor’s office say a politically powerful union may have had inappropriate influence over the Obama administration’s decision to withhold billions of dollars in federal stimulus money from California if the state does not reverse a scheduled wage cut for the labor group’s workers.

The officials say they are particularly troubled that the Service Employees International Union, which lobbied the federal government to step in, was included in a conference call in which state and federal officials reviewed the wage cut and the terms of the stimulus package.

The SEIU is of the opinion the state is “breaking the law” as it concerns the use of “stimulus” funds. The state sees it otherwise. But that doesn’t explain the inclusion of the union on the call. Said state officials:

During the conference call, state officials say, they were asked to defend the $74-million cut scheduled to take effect July 1. The cut lowers the state’s maximum contribution to home health workers’ pay from $12.10 per hour to $10.10.

The California officials on the call, who requested anonymity for fear of antagonizing the Obama administration, said they needed the savings to help balance the state budget.

Most know that California is a budgetary basket case, but they should also know that SEIU members are the one’s effected by the cut. The phrase which is most chilling in the last cite is that which indicates a fear of “antagonizing the Obama administration” among state workers.

Is that really the atmosphere that should exist between the states and the feds? And, given their inclusion in the call, isn’t it fair to claim that the SEIU has had “undue” influence with the administration?

So how is this different than the alleged inappropriate lobbyist influence the left liked to holler about during the Bush years?


The Growing Opacity Of The Obama Administration

As you’re seeing demonstrated in the machinations concerning GM and Chrysler, not to mention the attempt to pass the card check legislation, unions are a favored constituency within the Obama administration. And it gets even better:

The Obama administration, which has boasted about its efforts to make government more transparent, is rolling back rules requiring labor unions and their leaders to report information about their finances and compensation.

The Labor Department noted in a recent disclosure that “it would not be a good use of resources” to bring enforcement actions against union officials who do not comply with conflict of interest reporting rules passed in 2007. Instead, union officials will now be allowed to file older, less detailed conflict reports.

The regulation, known as the LM-30 rule, was at the heart of a lawsuit that the AFL-CIO filed against the department last year. One of the union attorneys in the case, Deborah Greenfield, is now a high-ranking deputy at Labor, who also worked on the Obama transition team on labor issues.

Apparently, however, it is a good use of resources to spend money on just about everything else under the sun. But of course, if they used resources to bring enforcement actions against union officials who don’t comply with conflict of interest reporting rules, they’d have to start with Deborah Greenfield, wouldn’t they?

Funny how “resource use” suddenly becomes a problem when a probable rule violation becomes fairly evident.

Critics worry that the rollback of union reporting requirements will keep hidden potentially corrupt financial arrangements aimed at rooting out corruption, but unions say the Bush administration reporting rules were unfair and burdensome.

Darn right they were because, you know, they were catching corrupt union officials. Can’t have that. So “unfair and burdensome” – something that tax payers are never able to plead about the gigantic and undecipherable tax code – now takes priority over transparent and accountable.

Hope and change.