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Transcript: Health On The Hill – September 13, 2010

As Congress returns from its August recess, the Senate is expected to debate amendments to a package of small business tax breaks that would repeal a provision in the health care law requiring businesses to submit a 1099 form to the IRS for yearly purchases of $600 or more from a vendor. Small business hates the provision and has lobbied against it but efforts to modify the requirement or repeal it are expected to fail.

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JACKIE JUDD:  Good day.  I am Jackie Judd and this is Health on the Hill.  Lawmakers return to Washington this week.  Voters in several states return to the voting booths for primary elections tomorrow.  And health care reform figures into both of those events.  Here to join me to discuss the latest is Mary Agnes Carey, senior correspondent of Kaiser Health News, and Jennifer Haberkorn of Politico, welcome to you as well. 

When Congress returns to Washington, they are going to be taking up one small portion of the health care reform law that really got little, if any, attention when the law was passed earlier this year.  What is it, and what do some lawmakers want to do with it?     

MARY AGNES CAREY:  This is an amendment that will be offered in a larger package of small business tax breaks and incentives for small businesses to try to help them add more jobs and improve the economy.  We are talking about a requirement in the health care law that would require companies to send a 1099 form to the IRS whenever they buy $600 of goods or services from a vendor. 

Small businesses have really been complaining about this.  They say this is too much paperwork, it’s a ridiculous requirement, and it should be repealed.  And so the debate will be whether to repeal it.  That’s a Republican amendment that will be offered. 

The Democrats have an alternative to say it would only apply to businesses with 25 or fewer employees that spend $5,000 or more [on] a particular vendor.  So, these are two amendments that will both be offered and neither is expected to pass, but again it’s a glimpse into one provision of the health law that, as you say, didn’t get a lot of attention at the time. 

JACKIE JUDD:  And it’s a revenue raiser.  It’s about $17 billion dollars in the space of a decade.  What is the larger fear, Jennifer, if this amendment, one of these amendments were to pass?  

JENNIFER HABERKORN:  Well, I think the headline would be that they repealed a piece of the health care law, and obviously Democrats don’t want that to happen.  Democrats have said we’re willing to accept that this isn’t perfect.  We’re going to have to come back and fix it, but I think they are really reluctant to let a repeal piece of legislation pass.

JACKIE JUDD:  Particularly one that has to do with raising money to help pay for some of the increased costs associated with this new law.

MARY AGNES CAREY:  That’s exactly right.  I mean, everything that they want to do, even if they found pieces of the law that they perhaps agreed at some point they might want to change or modify, they’ve got to find money to pay for that, and that’s just been incredibly tough on both sides of the debate for people to find revenue-raisers in this environment. 

JACKIE JUDD:  Has this or will it become an election issue?  You’ve been covering the primaries and the general down the road. 

JENNIFER HABERKORN:  I don’t think this provision will become a huge issue.  It will be for small business.  They hate it.  It’s universally panned.  No one likes this.  But, health on the whole, I don’t think we’re going to see it play the huge role we expected, but certainly Democrats who didn’t vote for the law are saying “hey, I wasn’t out there supporting this.  You hate it and I didn’t like it either.”  And, the Democrats who did support it, they’ve been a little more reluctant to bring it up on the trail, but when it comes up they are ready to say “I defend this law.” 

JACKIE JUDD:  You wrote a couple of stories and I noticed the headlines and I know you don’t write the headlines for Politico, but on September 5th the headline was “Dems Run Away From Health Care,” something along the lines of what you were just saying, and then two days later the headline was “Dems Say Health Care Can Help Races.” 

So, what’s the truth, and is there a divide between what the Democratic leadership is saying and what those who are running are saying and doing?

JENNIFER HABERKORN:  Well, it’s certainly a spectrum.  We see a lot of the Democrats who were elected when Obama came into office.  They represent conservative districts, and a lot of them didn’t want to vote for this.  Some of them actually didn’t vote for it.  So, they are out there saying that to voters, but then you see a couple of select races, the second story was a lot more focused. 

In Louisiana, the district that Joseph Cao represents; he’s the Republican who voted for the House bill but then didn’t vote for the Senate bill, his district is very liberal and in that district the Democratic challenger is saying I support Obama, and I support this law, and that is going to play very well there. 

It is going to play well in a handful of other districts that look the same way.  They are liberal districts or open seats, but I think we are going to see a lot more ads for people saying “I didn’t vote for the law and that’s why you should keep me in office.” 

JACKIE JUDD:  I know it’s early in the election season, but in your reporting so far, have you found a single candidate who is actually running a television ad touting his or her vote for the health reform bill? 

JENNIFER HABERKORN:  No.  No one’s doing that yet and actually one Democratic strategist said that would be political malfeasance to do that at this point.  It just doesn’t play well.  Republicans did a very good job of saying that [the law] was going to cut Medicare and lead to government-run health care, and those messages stuck in a lot of these conservative districts that have come to define the election this year. 

JACKIE JUDD:  There has been a lot of reporting in the past week or so about the potential for the House to go Republican later this fall.  Mary Agnes, should that occur, what is the scuttlebutt that you’re hearing up on Capitol Hill about what the potential fallout might be for implementation of the law?

MARY AGNES CAREY:  I think it’s pretty clear that Republicans would work to de-fund implementation.  They have an alternative.  They tried to advance last year.  They probably take that alternative and try to move it again or at least move it in pieces to replace if they decided not to implement a particular piece of the Democrats’ health care bill.  They have their own alternative.  They will absolutely continue to make that case. 

Now, depending on their numbers, most of the time in the House the majority can prevail on what they want to put on the floor and they’re victorious.  Depending on the makeup of the Senate, it would likely be stopped.  Even if something passed the Senate, the President of course is going to veto something that’s going to hurt this bill.

An override veto is always tough, because you need two-thirds of both chambers, but there’s no doubt that if Republicans get control of one or either chamber, they will make the message clear, de-fund implementation of this bill, and let’s replace it with something that we, and we believe the voters, prefer.

JENNIFER HABERKORN:  It would be very difficult to do that.  I mean, once you get to repealing, it’s a mess because you have things that are already in effect, programs that have already stated to be funded, and then like the pre-existing condition pool used to stop that at this point, now that you have people insured, it would give us a lot to write about but it would be a mess to try to see how that would work. 

MARY AGNES CAREY:  It’s all interrelated.  I had someone tell me last week, this is not like taking out a tumor surgically.  It’s not a clean cut to pull out some of these major provisions.  Individual mandate is a classic.  You repeal that, a lot of the bill rests on this requirement that most people have to have health insurance, and it’s really a pretty tricky, messy thing to do, so it would be very difficult, as you say. 

JACKIE JUDD:  Okay, well thank you both very much, Jennifer Haberkorn of Politico, and Mary Agnes Carey of Kaiser Health News, thank you both. 

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