When framing the debate over health care reform, it’s important to remember that it’s not just an issue of fairness or entitlement, at this moment, affordable health care for all is simply an economic issue. With our economy in the craptacular state it’s in at the moment, with people losing their jobs, benefits, and insurance left, right, and center, we need a social safety net. Because if we can’t take care of our own, what kind of country are we?
WASHINGTON — A Senate chairman who has a major role in writing health care legislation said Tuesday he hopes to convince President Barack Obama that taxing some employer-provided benefits will help control escalating costs.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., may face a hard sell. During his campaign for president, Obama ruled out taxing health benefits provided by employers.
“I know that’s an issue we have to work out with the president, but I think it’s an issue we will work out,” said Baucus, who is among several Senate Democrats scheduled to meet with Obama Tuesday afternoon to discuss health care costs.
Baucus said the tax-free benefit packages Americans now enjoy are a big factor in the high costs of the country’s health care system, because they provide workers free or low-cost access to too many health care services.
During the presidential campaign, Republican nominee John McCain’s health plan would have taxed health benefits. Obama made that a major issue in criticizing his rival.
But as Baucus and others have warmed to the idea because it could raise significant money to pay for health care, the White House has not ruled it out. By not treating health benefits as taxable wages, the forgone revenue to the federal government amounts to about $250 billion a year.
“It was not in our plan, it was not in our budget,” White House budget director Peter Orszag said Tuesday. “We are saying we want the legislative process to play out, and that’s all we have to say on that right now.”
Baucus and Orszag spoke at a White House event where Obama advisers released a new economic report that links fixing the economy with overhauling the costly U.S. health care system.
Obama is pushing Congress to enact sweeping health legislation this year to hold down costs and provide health coverage for 50 million uninsured Americans.
White House officials argue that overhauling the health care system is key to turning around the economy.