Wednesday, February 18, 2009

On Health Care: With GM, so goes the Nation?

American economic monoliths tend to steer the wheels of commerce by their sheer size and influence. A state like California can enact sweeping environmental laws that leads other states to do the same, and when a company like McDonald's acquiesces to posting nutritional information, others follow. As General Motors and the United Auto Workers iron out a deal involving its vaunted health care challenges, will its decision change how others do business and the debate due to commence in Washington?
As a part of GM's vast restructuring plan, the automaker is negotiating with the UAW to change the terms of the 2007 agreement that created a $35 billion trust fund for employee health care. To justify additional government bailout dollars, GM must show Washington details for future plans. The New York Times noted [http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/17/business/economy/17auto.html], GM "has to address how a company that lost more than $20 billion last year can afford $5 billion a year in medical bills."
Matt Miller, whose book The Tyranny of Dead Ideas indentifies the role of companies paying for employee health care benefits as one of those mortally-wounded ideas. Instead, he believes the government should carry the burden like every other nation in the industrialized world. Miller spoke about his ideas at The Commonwealth Club of California last week (see photo; Miller is on right, posing with ABC7 anchor Dan Ashley, who moderated the event).
In his book, Miller writes:
The second force — The Rush for the Exits — is corporate America's desire to stop providing health care and pensions to its employees. To be sure, these costs are soaring in ways that seem unsustainable, especially when competing firms in other nations bear fewer of them. Still, American business leaders act today as if their search for an "exit strategy" on benefits is the end of the conversation. What happens to the millions of workers who are left unprotected if companies simply walk away?

Miller told [http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=100338745] NPR last month that the government would need to raise taxes to foot the bill, but with Baby Boomers retiring, taxes will increase anyway. "We need to tax ourselves more smartly ... [by] cutting taxes on things like payrolls, which hurt lower-income workers and kill jobs, and raising taxes on dirty energy, which we want to cut back on because of our environmental goals," said Miller.
The Obama administration may be signaling a willingness to allow GM to tinker with health care, according to statements made by his adviser David Axelrod and the naming of Ron Bloom as a key adviser to the Treasury Department. Bloom, according to the Wall Street Journal [http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123483084725295657.html], is known for forcing parties to make significant concessions.
If GM is able to restructure its health-care responsibilities under the eyes of the White House, health-care reform critics and proponents alike will be wondering whether it could be the harbinger of the wholesale transfer of health care from private industry to the public sphere in the future.

2 comments:

The Intellectual Redneck said...

The UAW has failed to give serious concessions to the Big Three as part of a deal to satisfy the terms of the automotive bailout. They have only offered token reductions that will mean very little to Detroit's bottom line. According to the Associated Press the UAW agreed to limit overtime, reduce cash bonuses, forgo cost of living pay increases and limit supplemental pay for laid-off workers. Are they serious? Who in the automotive manufacturing sector is working overtime now? Auto production is down almost 40% this year. Also, they are going to reduce their cash bonuses? How do you get a cash bonus when you have helped drive your company bankrupt? Who do they think they are? Bank executives? No one I know gets supplemental pay from their former employer when they are laid-off. When a company can not afford to pay their current employees, they should not be giving money to laid-off employees. The UAW have refused to take a cut in their base wages. The retiree health care cost issue is still not resolved. The 'Big Three' want the UAW to take half of their 20 billion dollar payment as stock. The UAW only wants to delay the payment, but this issue is still not settled. The CEO's of GM and Chrysler LLC should be embarrassed to beg for another 17 billion in taxpayer dollars. There is something unjust about taking money from a worker struggling by on 20 or 30 thousand dollars a year and using it to save the job of someone with a $70,000 wage and benefit package. The UAW will declare this deal a major concession. The leaders of the 'Big Three" will stay silent because they need more bailout money. The Obama Administration will look the other way and hand over more of our tax dollars.

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