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Health care fix must not cripple the economy

As the senior Republican on the U.S. House and Education and Labor Committee, I have spent much of the past week in committee meetings reviewing the 1,018-page health care bill introduced Tuesday by House Democrat leadership.

Irrespective of partisan political views, we can all agree that Minnesotans and all Americans deserve the peace of mind that comes with knowing they have the health care their families need, when they need it, at a cost they can afford.

Accordingly, Congress is faced with the challenge of bringing meaningful reform to the U.S. health care system without damaging our economy.

Naturally, when it comes to health care reform, much of the national conversation has been personal: Can I keep my coverage? Can I keep my doctor? How will my co-payments and other fees be affected?

But there is also a business side to the health care debate that needs attention -- and it is no less personal.

Supporters of the bill being debated in Congress want to finance their reform on the backs of the small businesses that drive our economy. The majority leadership in Congress proposes to pay for their estimated $1.3 trillion package (according to the Congressional Budget Office) by imposing:

· A surtax on individuals earning at least $280,000 in adjusted gross income and couples earning more than $350,000 - roughly half of which would be collected from small businesses.

· A "pay or play" scheme that requires employers to "play" by offering federally approved health benefits or "pay" a new tax equal to eight percent of the payroll.

· Cuts in Medicare spending - just as millions of sixty-something baby boomers are soon to enroll in this already financially shaky program.

The proposed mountain of new mandates and taxes will cost America jobs at a time when it needs them most.

At 9.5 percent, our national unemployment rate is at its highest level in 26 years. Approximately 467,000 jobs were lost last month alone - nearly 17,000 of which were in Minnesota - and close to 6.5 million jobs have been lost since the recession began.

And this is before any additional burdens have been enacted.

If the current proposal does become reality, experts say the job situation will deteriorate even further. A national mandate on small businesses to provide health care would eliminate 1.6 million jobs over a five-year period, according to a study by the National Federation of Independent Business Research Foundation. Two out of three of those jobs would be shed from the small businesses that drive our economy.

But don't take the business community's word for it. Using a model developed by Dr. Christina Romer, chairwoman of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, it is estimated that 4.7 million jobs could be lost as a result of health-related taxes businesses simply cannot afford to pay.

I believe there is a better way. In contrast to the plan supported by majority leadership, I prefer an approach that would not push the costs of reform to families and small businesses, strip individuals of the employer-provided coverage they currently receive, nor force Americans in need of care to navigate yet another maze of government bureaucracy.

I join many of my Republican colleagues in supporting a plan that will create opportunities for small businesses to pool their resources to offer higher quality coverage, provide tax credits to help small businesses cover the administrative costs of establishing and maintaining health coverage, and cut regulations so insurance companies can compete for business, which would enable individuals to shop around for the coverage and price that best meet their unique needs.

We must find a way to fix health care without crippling our economy. Rather than support the current proposal, which provides considerably more questions than answers, I hope to work with Democrats and Republicans to forge a commonsense, bipartisan solution that will fix what's broken in the health care system while keeping what works - including the job and health plan many Minnesotans already have.

John Kline of Lakeville can be reached at (952) 808-1213 or