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Health plan: Tax the rich

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Associated Press
Published:
WASHINGTON -- An income tax surcharge on highly paid Americans emerged as the leading option Wednesday night as House Democrats sought ways to pay for health care legislation that President Barack Obama favors, several officials said.
As discussed in the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, the surtax would apply to individuals with adjusted gross income of more than $200,000 and couples over $250,000, they said.
In addition, key lawmakers are expected to call for a tax or fee equal to a percentage of a worker's salary on employers who do not offer health benefits.
Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., a member of the panel, said the proposed surtax on high-income taxpayers appealed to her and others as a way to avoid a "nickel-and-dime" approach involving numerous smaller tax increases. She added that other earlier options had fallen away, including an increase in the payroll tax.
Berkley cautioned that no final decisions have been made, either by the tax-writing committee or by the Democratic leadership, which hopes to have legislation drafted by Friday and through the House by month's end.
The developments stood in contrast to the Senate, where Democrats edged away from their goal of passing ambitious health care legislation by early August amid heightening partisan controversy over tax increases and a proposed new government role in providing insurance to consumers.
"I think the ultimate goal is to have a bill by the end of this year" that is signed into law by the president, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said. He said Democrats would make "every effort to stick to the timetable" that included initial Senate action by August.
Separately, Republicans who met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he expressed flexibility on the timetable, indicating he was willing to allow more time before legislation is brought to the floor.
The evident slippage coincided with a formal announcement that the nation's hospitals had agreed to give up $155 billion in projected Medicare and Medicaid payments over the next decade, money than can help defray the cost of the legislation the administration wants.
"Folks, reform is coming. It is on track," Biden said at the White House, urging the Senate to enact legislation by the now-imperiled August goal.
Any failure to meet the goal would be a setback -- but not necessarily a fatal one -- for Obama's attempt to win legislation this year that both slows the growth in health care costs and extends coverage to nearly 50 million Americans who now lack it.

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