Olympia Snowe Co-Sponsors Bill To Repeal Employer Responsibility Provision She Crafted

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) — who is up for re-election in 2012 — has issued a press release announcing that she is co-sponsoring an amendment “to repeal the employer mandate imposed by the new health reform law”:

U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) cosponsored legislation today to repeal the employer mandate imposed by the new health reform law. Senator Snowe, who opposes this mandate requiring employers to offer health insurance to their employees, filed an amendment during Senate consideration of the health care legislation to strike the provision altogether. Additionally, Senator Snowe is a cosponsor of legislation to fully repeal the health care law.

From the beginning, I strongly opposed this mandate, which will require small businesses with more than 50 workers to offer health insurance as a workplace benefit – or be subject to a fine of up to $2,000 penalty per employee. Worse still, the employer mandate captures part-time workers and seasonal workers who are employed for more than 120 days in determining whether a firm will be subject to the mandate.

The “mandate” Snowe is referring to is actually a “free rider” compromise provision that she helped broker as a member of the so-called ‘Gang of 6.’ Unlike the pay or play employer requirement that was part of earlier drafts of the law it doesn’t “require small businesses with more than 50 workers” to offer coverage. In fact that’s why Snowe eventually voted for the measure in the Senate Finance Committee.

As the National Journal reported on July 28, 2009, Snowe “emerged from bipartisan talks Monday confirming the employer mandate and, as expected, a public option would not make the final bill.” “We still have various options on the table, but we obviously are providing incentives in that regard,” Snowe said. “We don’t mandate employer coverage.” What the Finance Committee offered instead was a provision that did not require employers to provide insurance. However, by 2014, businesses with more than 50 employees that choose not to offer coverage, but have at least one full- time employee who receives a federal tax credit through an exchange, must compensate the government.

Progressives vehemently opposed the measure. As the Washington Post’s Steve Pearlstein explained at the time, “the provision would have the perverse effect of encouraging employers to fire, or not to hire, low-wage workers with children or spouses who are unemployed.” “Republican Olympia Snowe is said to be particularly enamored of this idea. I’d bet a two-pound lobster and bowl of Maine’s best chowder that she can’t find a labor economist back home who thinks this is a good policy,” he added. Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) unsuccessfully offered an amendment to replace the free-rider provision with an employer mandate and the Snowe-crafted provision made its way into section 1513 of the Affordable Care Act.