Opinion Extra

Health bill puts heavy burden on housing industry

In their zeal to deliver a health care bill by Christmas, Senate Democrats have inserted an 11th-hour jobs-killing provision that unfairly singles out the construction industry and threatens the viability of area small home building firms and countless others across the nation.

The provision stipulates that small construction industry companies with five or more workers must offer health care coverage to their workers - the same mandate required for big businesses with multimillion dollar payrolls - or face stiff fines. Meanwhile, the mandatory health care threshold for companies in all other industries is 50 or more workers.

To say that this provision is patently unfair is greatly understating the matter; it is also economically dangerous. With the construction industry currently charting an unemployment rate exceeding 18 percent and more than $200 billion in economic activity already lost in the past year, the additional impact of such a requirement would be extremely detrimental to communities like ours. Keep in mind that a majority of home building firms in the Columbia area and across America are small "mom and pop" operations that employ less than a dozen workers and are struggling to stay solvent amidst the worst housing downturn in decades.

Do no harm is the guiding principle that all doctors abide by. In crafting health care legislation, Congress must understand this concept also applies to America's small businesses, the backbone of our economy. If this provision targeting the construction industry is enacted into law, many small builders in our community and across the nation could be forced to shut their doors, placing the housing industry on life-support. The consequences for housing and the economy are incalculable.

It is time that the Democrats in the South Carolina delegation take a deep breath and understand the consequences of the health care bill being voted on and not rush to meet an artificial political deadline.

Earl E. McLeod Jr.

Executive director, Home Builders Association of Greater Columbia