Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Begich, Murkowski question contractor rule on health care

Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski have both sent letters to U.S. Senate leaders asking that a provision that puts a mandate on small construction companies that would not apply to other small firms be changed in the health care bill.

Businesses with fewer than 50 employees would not face the mandates that larger companies would under the health bill. But an amendment was inserted last month to say that construction businesses would only be exempt if they have five or fewer employees.
The New York Times said that labor unions lobbied for the provision, arguing that without it, small nonunion companies would have an advantage over companies that provide benefits. Companies that don't have an exemption would pay a $750 tax for each employee if they don't provide health coverage.

An IBEW lobbyist told the newspaper that this amendment was important because most small nonunion employers don't provide benefits. "It's one way they gain an advantage over union contractors," he told the Times.

There are so many contractors with less than 50 employees that nearly all of the construction industry would be exempt, supporters told the newspaper. Opponents said the measure would kill jobs at a time and harm small businesses.

Begich said that either the 50-and-under exemption should be applied to all businesses or, as an alternative, the bill should require a lower threshold for companies competing for large commercial contracts, not small businesses doing homes and repair jobs.

The letter from Murkowski and 17 other Republicans said the housing and construction business has been hit hard during the recession and that it is "egregious and unfair" to single out one industry. They said the provision should be scrapped.

Source: By Dermot Cole. Originally published in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on January 16, 2010