The Citizen

Despite reports to the contrary, Rep. Pete Stark says the pace of health care reform talks between House and Senate leaders is lagging and believes passage may be straying towards taxing the middle class.

“We’re not getting very far,” Stark told listeners at a telephone town hall meeting Saturday. Democrats from the House and Senate have been negotiating to mend the two bills passed by each chamber to present to the president as early as the end of this week.

A major concession was made last Thursday on how to pay for health care reform with the Senate’s proposal to tax so-called higher end “Cadillac” plans winning over the House’s plan to charge a surtax on high-income families. “Unhappily, I hate to say this, the president’s staff is largely on the side of the Senate. For some reason, they seem to think the Senate has all the right answers,” said Stark.

The congressman said he was worried the excise tax on high-end medical plans opposed by progressives and labor unions could spill over to taxes on the middle class. “I just wish they would drop the whole thing, but I don’t know if we can hold out for that,” said Stark. He gave no indication whether he would support the final bill, but Stark said some progressives may not support it.

The pending health care reform was squarely on the minds of most callers,  but some questioned Stark on the economy’s stagnant pace of creating new jobs. He said the government must continue to invest in infrastructure, schools and law enforcement and noted the stimulus bill passed last year has only stemmed the tide of unemployed Americans. “That’s not enough,” he said. “The only jobs that I can see we have created are mostly on Wall Street.”

With over 4,700 auto workers due to lose their jobs at Fremont-based NUMMI in the spring, Stark said getting the Senate to pass aid for those workers have proven “a daunting task.” Stark announced last year, a generous package of government subsidized health care, extended unemployment and training for each employee at the Fremont plant due to be closed by Toyota. Stark gave no timetable for when the Senate is due to make a decision on the House bill.