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January 17, 2018

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Insurmountable barrier?

Lobbyists appear set to oppose any increase in taxes to reform health care system

The Senate Finance Committee is experiencing a conflict that will plague it throughout its effort to fund the health care reforms that Congress and the Obama administration are now debating.

There is agreement among most members of Congress — and among most Americans — that our health care system is broken and needs to be fixed, although how to fix it has not been resolved.

But here is the predicament facing the committee: There is no agreement about how to generate the estimated $1.5 trillion that the fixes will cost over the next decade.

An example is President Barack Obama himself, whose signature issue on the domestic front has been health care. During his campaign he ruled out taxing health insurance benefits that workers receive from their employers as one way of financing a reform.

But Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said that Obama told him in a meeting Tuesday with other Democratic senators that such a tax is “on the table.”

The committee’s task of reconciling funding issues with Obama, however, will be child’s play compared with resolving them with lobbyists. Proof of that came when the committee considered a proposal to increase federal taxes on “lifestyle” products.

These are items considered related more to consumers’ choices than to their needs. They include beer, alcohol and sugary sodas.

Right away, according to the Associated Press, the American Beverage Association and lobbyists for sugar producers and manufacturers of sweetened foods registered opposition. So too did the Corn Refiners Association, the National Retail Federation and associations representing grocers, food marketers, food vending machine operators and beer, wine and alcohol companies.

It will likely be this way for every tax the Finance Committee proposes. Americans say they want health care reform, but who is going to step up to the plate and say he will help pay for it?

In a time like this Congress must remember another of Obama’s pledges — to curtail the power of lobbyists. If Congress cannot do that, health care reform will remain a dream.

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