Small Business Owners Deliver Mixed Messages To Capitol Hill
As more specific legislative language emerges on health care, "small business organizations are encouraging members to make their views known through e-mails, letters, phone calls and personal visits" to members of Congress, but "the message is a decidedly mixed one," Kaiser Health News reports. "Small business, a powerful constituency in every congressional district, no longer speaks with one voice on health care. Many of the bigger and more powerful groups that represent small businesses, including the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have long been allied with Republicans and are lobbying hard against the public option and the employer mandate." But newer, less conservative groups, including the Main Street Alliance, are advocating for those same hot button issues.
"'The absence of unified opposition from the small-business community is meaningful,' says Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution. When all of small business rallies against a proposal, he says, it makes lawmakers who are on the fence 'exceptionally wary' of going against the crowd."
Members of the Chamber of Commerce have already "sent more than 50,000 letters to Capitol Hill on the health care overhaul proposals," and "a recent NFIB e-mail generated nearly 1,500 letters to the Capitol from small business owners opposing an employer mandate." The NFIB also "hosted a series of meetings with legislators in their districts over the July 4th recess." Main Street Alliance recently sent 60 members to Capitol Hill to lobby their legislators personally and has also organized door-to-door canvassing "to drum up support from other small business owners." While Mann believes this type of grassroots communications "may not be the 'crucial element' in determining the outcome of the overhaul battle," he says that "at the margin, in a close vote, it could make a difference" (Gold, 7/9).
Meanwhile, "business lobbyists have been stewing" over the recent deals cut between health care providers and lawmakers to help fund a health care overhaul, The Associated Press reports. "Their concern: The many billions in savings health providers are promising will ultimately come from the pockets of the nation's employers, who are already drowning in medical costs. The growing divide underlines that while almost every group in Washington says it favors health care reform, sharp divisions emerge over how to achieve it. The chasm also fractures the overall business community, making it harder for opponents of an overhaul to form broad coalitions that might defeat it, such as the largely united business front that doomed President Bill Clinton's drive to remake the medical system in the early 1990s."
Business groups worry that hospitals and drug companies, who have already made deals with lawmakers, "may find ways to shift the costs to the country's private employers, who provide most Americans with health care coverage." Rich Umbdenstock, president of the American Hospital Association, acknowledges that "we're all concerned about cost shifts and the burden that places on the private sector," but "none of that is enough for many business groups, large and small" who have seen their health insurance premiums grow "by 78% between 2001 and 2007," according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (Fram, 7/9).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.