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Groups Aim One Last Time at Reform Bill

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a coalition of other business interests launched a multimillion-dollar television ad campaign Tuesday attacking Democrats’ latest health care reform plans.

The business-backed Employers for a Healthy Economy billed the campaign, worth at least $4 million, as its final push on health care reform, with the message that the bill would further damage the nation’s economy.

“Americans are losing their jobs,” said Bruce Josten, the chamber’s executive vice president of government affairs, during a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “Businesses are struggling … so we’re calling on viewers to call Congress to stop this bill.”

Josten said the ad buy for the campaign is worth $4 million to $10 million, and the spots will go up first on cable and then run in several targeted states. He added that the entire business community wants health care reform, but not the version supported by President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats.

“We want it done right,” Josten said, noting the reform that he and his allies could support would “bend the cost curve” so health care becomes more affordable.

Nearly 250 lobbying groups — including the Associated General Contractors of America, National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, International Foodservice Distributors Association, National Retail Federation and National Association of Manufacturers — are part of the coalition and have contributed to funding the ad campaign.

Josten also said the health insurance industry put in money toward the effort. “Some comes from the insurance industry, yes,” he conceded. He added that while the health insurance industry can defend itself against Democrats’ attacks, Obama has unnecessarily vilified the sector. “The president wants an enemy he can point out and hammer, and that’s what he’s trying to do,” Josten said.

Jade West, NAWD’s senior vice president of government relations, said Democrats’ “scapegoating” of the insurance industry still was not helping them garner public support for the health care reform bill. She added that the “unprecedented new entitlements” and new taxes would be a killer to businesses.

“The business community will not take risks while they are simultaneously being threatened with new costs,” she said.

The bill isn’t winning any fans in the retail sector, either.

Neil Trautwein, NRF’s vice president and employee benefits policy counsel, said his members are disappointed with the direction of health care reform legislation.

“This is a bad bargain, no matter how many arbitrary deadlines are thrown at it,” he said. “We strongly oppose it.”

Health care isn’t the only issue that got the chamber and other business groups fired up Tuesday. The chamber, NAM and the National Potato Council upped their rhetoric on another one of the business community’s key issues: international trade.

The groups are lobbying to end a dispute between the United States and Mexico over cross-border trucking provisions in the North American Free Trade Agreement. Mexico wants the United States to open its market to Mexican trucks, as agreed to in NAFTA, but many U.S. interests, including trucking unions, have said Mexican trucks don’t meet safety requirements.

The business lobbies say the conflict has resulted in retaliatory tariffs by the Mexican government that are costing U.S. jobs.

“We’re united in our desire to save the tens of thousands of U.S. jobs at risk,” said John Murphy, the chamber’s vice president of international policy. “The situation is bad, has gotten worse, and it’s probably about to get worse still.”

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