Weakly Defending the Union Exemption from the Health Care Tax

From the White House press briefing today, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs responding to queries from ABC’s Jake Tapper:

Q    If I can just follow up on a question I asked yesterday?  Now that the details of the deal with the labor unions have been made public, why is it fair for individuals who have so-called Cadillac plans that have been negotiated through collective bargaining agreements to be exempt until 2018 from the proposed excise tax, whereas those who might be in the exact same situation but are not part of labor unions — even if they want to be and their company resisted, or many they’re in right-to-work states — why is it fair for one group to not get a tax and others to —

MR. GIBBS:  I would say this.  I’ve asked to see what numbers they can run.  We’re talking about an exceedingly small number of people I think that the premise of your impact would impact.

Q    It’s a big tax, though, 40 percent.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, it’s a 40 percent tax on the insurance company for the excess of their policy over the threshold, right?  So the new threshold is at $24,000, right?  So —

Q    But if it wasn’t a big deal, the labor unions wouldn’t have pushed so hard to be exempt from it until 2018.

MR. GIBBS:  No, I understand.  What I’m just — it’s not a 40 percent tax.  It’s a 40 percent tax above a threshold on an insurance company, not on an individual or a family.

Q    Well, I meant it’s not an inconsiderable tax.

MR. GIBBS:  I would say that obviously there is — just like there is for the insurance fee, just as there are for fees on manufacturers and other businesses, there’s a phase-in for this fee over a five-year period of time, just as there is, again, on — the administration did not believe it made any sense to treat business and industry and insurance companies different than they treat workers.

Q    Just to follow up on that, Robert, in terms of labor unions, the final negotiations seem to be basically the President, Democratic leaders, labor unions, in private rooms here at the White House negotiating.  How does that square with the President’s promise to put these negotiations in public?

MR. GIBBS:  We discussed this, I think, two weeks ago.

Q    I know you discussed it before, but now we’re actually seeing it playing out.  It’s basically labor unions saying, we want this, and there’s no other stakeholders at the table.

MR. GIBBS:  Ed, again, I’d refer you to the transcript a couple weeks ago.

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