Durbin Talks Health Care Reform at Chamber Lunch

January 12, 2010


During a luncheon Monday at the Tinley Park Convention Center, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin spoke to business owners and elected officials from around the region - and also the waitresses who served them tomato chicken with whipped sweet potatoes.

The Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce hosted the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, who discussed the health care reform bill he continues to refine with his colleagues.

"This is a bill that affects every peron in this room, from the wait staff to the elected officials," Durbin said.

The senator offered several "misconceptions" about the legislation, and tried to correct them. One of those fallacies involves thinking "health reform is a job killer," and small businesses will bear the brunt of the cost, he said.

Under the Senate plan as it exists, any business with 50 or fewer employees will not be required to provide health insurance to their employees. If small business owners do offer insurance because of a requirement or desire, the federal government will help them pay for that coverage through tax breaks.

"Employers will not be penalized for not offering health care coverage unless that employee takes advantage of one of the options being offered by the government," he said.

Durbin added he wants to change the climate of the small business insurance market to encourage more competition, which will lower prices.

After his talk, Durbin took questions from the audience. John Greuling, president of the Will County Center for Economic Development, asked how the federal government plans to encourage job growth.

"People in the business community think we'd be better off with more private sector jobs," Greuling said.

Banks are now repaying the money the government loaned them in the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Part of this some $80 billion will go toward jobs growth, Durbin said, including investments in "key personnel" - teachers, police officers and firefighters - and efforts to expand credit to small businesses.

"We hear small businesses say, 'We can't get credit to stay in business or expand our business,' " Durbin said. "We want to encourage this lending, particularly through local banks who know these people."

Durbin's reassurances to small businesses weren't enough to calm the mind of Phil Maser, a chamber ambassador who works in business development for Riverdale Body Shop, with several locations in the Southland.

"I think none of this is going to be free," Maser said. "The tax on small business is killing us. The tax on middle-income Americans is killing us. These are all great ideas, but they're not free."