Pool industry advocates are waging a pitched battle in Washington to remove a controversial addition to the Senate version of the national health care legislation.
The amendment to HR 3590, inserted by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.,
requires construction companies with at least five employees and
payrolls above $250,000 to provide their workers with health
coverage or face costly penalties.
The provision applies only to the construction trade; for all
other industries, the standard is 50 employees. It has attracted a
firestorm of criticism from small business owners and related
interests across the country.
“I think it’s crazy,” said Michael Manley,
president of Champagne Pools & Spas, a Pool & Spa
News Top Builder based in Sanford, Fla. “For them to
single out the construction industry makes no sense at
On behalf of the Florida Swimming Pool Association as well as
his own company, Manley recently joined with representatives from
Federation of Independent Business, Associated Builders and
Contractors, and Independent Electrical Contractors to denounce the
The measure comes at a particularly difficult time for the
construction industry, which accounted for 53,000 of the 85,000
jobs lost in December 2009, according to the U.S. Labor
Perhaps most troubling to opponents is how the provision wound
up in the bill at all. The Merkley amendment was inserted into the
Senate legislation just prior to the chamber’s Christmas Eve
vote, which passed 60-39. Critics say it was included at the
eleventh hour mainly to appease organized labor.
“It was a backroom deal,” Manley alleged.
“They’re trying to buy whatever support they can in
order to get this thing passed. It’s almost directly linked
to the unions.”
Calls to Merkley’s office requesting comment were not
In Florida, the coalition that includes FSPA, NFIB, ABC and the
IEC recently drafted an open letter to the state’s
Congressional delegation warning of the amendment’s impact.
In it, they cite the industry’s nearly 23 percent
unemployment rate, as well as $200 billion in lost economic
activity in 2009.
“This narrowly focused provision is an unprecedented
assault on our industry and the men and women who, every day, make
the bold decision to strike out on their own by starting a
business,” it reads. “Simply put: We are struggling to
survive, and this mandate will make things worse.”
Jennifer Hatfield, who heads up government relations for FSPA
and the Association
of Pool & Spa Professionals, has alerted members and
encouraged them to contact their own representatives in
However, she added, a new twist has emerged with the recent
election of Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown to the seat
held by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.
“All signs point to them waiting until [Brown] gets seated
before moving the bill through,” Hatfield said. “So
there will probably be more developments to come. But there are
people all over who have problems with the bill, and if they start
railroading this thing through, there will certainly be more
urgency on everyone’s part.”