Equipment Maker Says Health Care Bill Would Cost It $100 Million in First Year

Caterpillar, the heavy-equipment maker that President Obama cited last year in making his argument for a massive economic stimulus package, is opposing the health care bill nearing final passage, saying the bill would ramp up the company's operating costs by $100 million alone in the first year and imperil coverage for its 150,000 employees and retirees.

In a letter Thursday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader John Boehner, and provided to, the Peoria, Ill.-based company urged lawmakers to vote against the bill, citing provisions in it -- such as new coverage mandates and the taxation of Medicare subsidies for prescription drugs -- that would drive up its health care costs by more than 20 percent.

"In our fragile economy, we can ill-afford cost increases that place us at a disadvantage versus global competitors that are not similarly burdened," Gregory Folley, vice president of the company, wrote.

"As one of America's leading manufacturing companies and exporters, we're disappointed that efforts at reform have not addressed the cost concerns we've raised throughout the year," he said. "And we strongly believe the current legislation is not in the best interests of Caterpillar or the more than 150,000 employees, retirees and dependents that we cover."

The company's estimate of $100 million is the equivalent of about an additional $55 a month for each of 150,000 workers.

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Caterpillar logged a $895 million profit last year on total revenues of $29.5 billion -- both figures down sharply from the previous year.

The company did not respond to e-mails asking whether it expects layoffs as a result of the bill.

Last year, Obama said he was told by the world's largest maker of mining and construction machinery that it would hire back some of the more than 22,000 workers it planned to lay off if the president's stimulus bill passed.

But Caterpillar CEO Jim Owens later contradicted the president and said even if the stimulus passed, the company would probably have to lay off more workers before rehiring any of them.

Now Obama is furiously campaigning for public support and for at least 216 votes from House Democrats to pass the bill, a vote likely to take place on Sunday. House Democrats are looking to pass the Senate-approved health bill and a package of changes that was released Thursday. They want to pass the fix-it bill under "reconciliation" rules, which would allow the Senate to pass it with just 51 votes, instead of 60.