Capitol News By Meghan Boyer

In May, the Senate began considering health legislationthat would allow small businesses to band togetherin insurance pools to offer health insurance policiesto workers. If passed, the measure would overridestate health benefit and cost regulationsand allow organizationsand insurers to offer scaleddown,low-cost small-businesshealth plans as long as theyinclude comprehensive coverage,reported the Wall Street Journal.

The controversial S. 1955 orHealth Insurance MarketplaceModernization and AffordabilityAct, sponsored by Sen. MikeEnzi (R-Wyo.), comes amid risinghealth costs at a time whenmore than 11 million of theroughly 46-million uninsuredAmericans work for small businessesor are family members ofsmall-business employees.

Supporters, like the National Federation ofIndependent Business, feel the legislation is likely toease health care pains without creating a costly governmentprogram. By forming purchasing pools,small businesses — including even large growers Ñwill be able to operate the larger corporations thatare currently exempt from state coverage requirements,pointed out Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.). Manyindustry associations such as the American Nurseryand Landscape Associationsupport the bill.

The AARP retirees group, theAmerican Diabetes Association,the American Cancer Society andother critics think the bill willweaken protection for patientsand result in insurance policiesthat won't protect ill workers.They also believe it would distortinsurance pools and price older,sicker workers who need extensivecoverage out of health careby allowing younger, healthieremployees to pay less for policiesthat have minimal or no benefits.

While many Republicans supportthe bill, most Democratsback an alternate bill by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)and Blanch Lincoln (D-Ark.) that would allow smallbusinesses to join a national insurance pool, according tothe New York Times. The Senate was expected to hold acloture vote near the end of May.

Bush Signed Tax Bill

President Bush has recently signed tax legislation that awards $70 billionin tax cuts over five years. The bill provides a 2-year extension (through2010) to the 15-percent tax rate for capital gains and dividends, makes RothIRAs available to high-income taxpayers, and awards tax relief to investorsand 15 million taxpayers who are facing the alternative minimum tax.

According to its supporters, the bill will keep money in the pockets ofAmericans in the middle of the income distribution, and Republicans creditthe tax cuts, which debuted in 2003, for the improved economy and jobdevelopment.

The tax bill passed in the Senate on May 11 by a 54-44 vote and theHouse on May 10 by a 244-185 vote; both votes were largely along partisanlines. Passage of the bill is the first step in a 2-step GOP tax-cut strategy:Later, a different bill containing up to $30 billion in tax breaks will advance.

High Court Considers Immigration Detail

Bush administration lawyers and agroup of workers recently brought asmall piece of the immigration debatebefore the Supreme Court: Theyadvocated the Court allow manufacturerMohawk Industries Inc. to besued for allegedly using recruiters tofind and hire illegal workers.

Justices will consider whether corporationsthat contract services can beconsidered an illegal enterprise underthe Racketeer Influenced and CorruptOrganizations Act (RICO) of 1970, alaw originally designed to fight organizedcrime. Congress expanded thereach of the law in 1996 to include violationssuch as hiring illegal workers.

Justices have voiced concern overwhether or not corporations fit into aconfusing definition of enterprises thatfall under the anti-racketeering law,which focuses mostly on associationsof individuals. Among other concerns,the Justices are reluctant to allow theexpansion of the law's definition pastits original intention, reported CNN.The court's decision could affect immigrationdebates as well as criminal andcivil uses of RICO.

Meghan Boyer

Meghan Boyer is associate editor ofGPN. She can be reached at [email protected] or (847) 391-1013.

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