Murkowski Heads Up Letter To Majority Leader Reid Asking Him to Drop Health Care Provision That Unfairly Targets Small Construction Firms

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, authored a letter signed by 17 other senators that asks Majority Leader Harry Reid to remove a provision from a pending health care bill that unfairly singles out small construction firms.

While the Senate-passed health care bill mandates that all small businesses with 50 employees or more provide health care insurance to their employees, the provision under question requires that small businesses in the construction industry with as few as five employees provide health care insurance.

"As the smallest employers in the housing and construction industry have arguably been hit the hardest during this economic downturn, it is most egregious and unfair that this legislation singles out one industry and subjects that industry to far greater fines and regulations than it does to any other labor sector of our economy," according to the letter, which called on Reid to remove the provision from any final health care legislation.

The provision showed up at the last minute in Reid's bill and had gone unnoticed publicly until Murkowski raised the issue in a Senate floor speech last month shortly before the Senate passed the measure. By the narrowest of majority votes, and with all 40 Republicans in opposition, the Senate passed a $2.5 trillion health care bill on Christmas Eve. Most polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans oppose the measure.

The bill does not specify which types of construction businesses would be affected, which means that federal bureaucrats will be choosing winners and losers should the Senate health care bill become law. Since the Bureau of Labor Statistics utilizes the Department of Commerce's North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), it is likely that oil and gas pipeline construction companies would be among those businesses forced to comply with the provision.

"This requirement is an expensive new mandate for this struggling industry that will impact 35 percent of all small construction firms and cost the construction industry jobs and billions in lost productivity. Currently, the construction industry faces a staggering 22.7 percent unemployment rate, double that of our economy as a whole. One million jobs have been lost, resulting in one out of five construction workers being unable to find work," the letter said.

The senators said the provision "violates fundamental principles of equity that are at the heart of our system of government."

"This provision has been inserted into the Senate passed healthcare bill without any justification for how it could benefit Americans or why it was necessary to target the construction industry and appears to be written solely at the behest of a powerful constituency group. Furthermore, this provision was dropped in the bill at the last minute and was neither debated on the Senate Floor nor reviewed by any Senate committee or subcommittee," according to the letter.

A group of Democrat senators have also sent a similar letter asking Reid to remove the construction provision from the health care bill.

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