In his speech Monday morning denouncing the president's efforts to overhaul the health care system as a socialistic experiment run amok, Michael Steele seemed determined to trip up the administration during what is a decidedly rough patch in the health care reform effort.
But, in the process, the chairman of the Republican National Committee inadvertently gave Obama a bit of support on one of health care's most contentious issues. Steele announced that he personally opposed a proposal -- put forth most prominently by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) during the 2008 election -- to end the tax exemption for high-cost employer plans, as an means of financing tax credits for the uninsured.
"That is something that the Republicans in the House and Senate are going to work through," Steele told a gathering of reporters at the National Press Club. "I know that there are different points of view on that particular issue. I stated very clearly in my comments that the idea of taxing health insurance premiums to me is not the way to go. I just don't think taxes work in this economy. I just don't think that is how you are going to solve this particular problem."
The issue of ending the employer tax exemption is one that has divided Obama and some congressional Democrats over the past month, as the president has been pressed to relent on his pledge not to add a tax burden to those making under $250,000. Steele admitted elsewhere in his press conference, that when it came to health care, he was approaching the issue from a political perspective and not with particular policy expertise. Still, his take on this issue gives the White House a veneer of bipartisanship it can use as the Senate crafts its final legislative product.
Later in the question-and-answer session Steele was pressed for his thoughts on an individual mandate for insurance coverage.
"That is one of those areas where there are different opinions by some in the House and the Senate on this," he said. "Look I don't do policy. I'm not a legislator. My point in coming here today was to begin to set a tone and a theme if you will, an approach to addressing this issue that center on real people who are struggling with this issue every single day."
For the record, few in the Congress are quibbling over the issue of an individual mandate for coverage.
"I don't think there is one senator who is against it," said one Democratic strategist who has worked on the issue for the past eight months.
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