Democratic Senate candidate Bob Kerrey said Thursday that he hates the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act and that his own businesses might drop employee insurance and pay the federal fine for doing so if the mandate goes into effect in 2014.
Kerrey said wealthy Americans pay their fair share in taxes. And he said President Barack Obama made a big mistake by not following the recommendations of his own bipartisan budget deficit commission.
And, because someone in the Suburban Rotary Club asked, he considers New York City’s ban on supersize soft drinks “a step too far.”
“Bob, you’re almost starting to sound Republican,” said Sol Kutler, part of the largely Republican crowd of 102 people at the club luncheon in Omaha.
“Half of me is kinda Republican,” Kerrey replied.
Kerrey wasted no opportunity to remind the Rotary audience that he’s a longtime co-owner of Nebraska small businesses — Grandmother’s Restaurants and Prairie Life health clubs.
His remarks about the Affordable Care Act, the law often called “Obamacare,” came in response to a question from Kutler, 85, a small-business man and Republican.
“Do you find anything about (Obamacare) that you disagree with?” Kutler asked.
“Oh, yeah — yes, I do,” Kerrey replied.
He singled out a portion of the plan that says if a company with more than 50 workers stopped offering health coverage it would face a fine of $2,000 per employee.
Questions have been raised about whether companies would stop paying for employees’ insurance and send them to obtain their own coverage from new insurance exchanges.
“I hate the employer mandate,” Kerrey said. “I think it’s going to have a counterproductive impact. We don’t have any (insured employee) that costs us less than $7,000 (a year), and the fine’s $2,000. We’ll dump ’em off. We won’t call it dumping, we’ll say ... ‘Go get it from the exchange.’”
He said the employer mandate “will accelerate an already breaking-down employer-based system.” That portion of the law should be repealed, he said.
Asked later if he meant that his Nebraska businesses would stop providing health insurance to its employees, Kerrey said he had not talked about the matter at length with co-owner Dean Rasmussen, but that businesses would have an incentive to drop health coverage.
“I don’t know for certain what Dean will do, but it is likely that he’s going to have a very powerful incentive to tell the employees ‘You can get your insurance from a private plan,’” Kerrey said.
The audience gave Kerrey — who is running against Republican State Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine — a polite reception.
He told them one of his priorities in the Senate would be addressing the looming insolvency of Social Security, a solution he said would require raising taxes as well as reducing benefits.
“All of us (politicians) are almost equal opportunity panderers to people over 65,” Kerrey said. “We’re afraid they won’t vote for us.”
Both the president and Republican nominee Mitt Romney are saying nobody over 55 will have to pay more, Kerrey said.
“(State) Sen. Fischer says nobody over 40 will,” he said.
Kerrey backs a plan based on the 2010 Simpson-Bowles report, a set of anti-deficit recommendations named after the presidential panel’s chairmen. It proposes changes such as delaying the age at which younger workers could draw retirement benefits, slowing cost-of-living adjustments and allowing more of the income earned by higher earners to be subject to the payroll tax.
Kerrey faulted Obama for not championing Simpson-Bowles while the recommendations might have enjoyed bipartisan support.
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