You may have already heard: the United States Senate took a monumental step toward passing its health care reform bill early Monday morning by approving a cloture motion on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s so-called manager’s amendment, which contains the compromises made to reach 60 votes. Now the bill will continue debate before voting on final passage, probably Thursday, December 24.

What you can do

Call Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden to thank them for their votes to move forward and their continued hard work on health care reform that works for small businesses. After final passage, we’ll focus our efforts on the conference negotiations, where the final details will be worked out between the House and Senate versions before it becomes law. Keep in touch as we move forward in the next couple weeks.

And after that?

The Oregon Small Business Council is moving from its infancy into adulthood, and we need your help. As we look ahead to January, please consider helping us grow by doing one or more of the following:

  • Fill out our short issues survey so we know what issues are important to you as a small business owner.

  • Host a small business networking event–happy hour, coffee hour, etc.–to help network with other business owners in your area and work toward the goal of building successful and sustainable local economies.

  • Recruit five small business owners from your block, neighborhood or city. Local economies are only as strong as the network to sustain them, and we need your help to build a strong advocacy force for small businesses that can stand up to out-of-state corporations and other well-funded special interests. Your friends can sign up here.

  • Volunteer for a leadership position. As we move forward, our structure is changing. We are now seeking officers for a board of directors and volunteers to work on policy issue committees.

For more information on any of these opportunities, please contact Andrew at 971-634-0010 or andrew@oregonaction.org.

We truly appreciate your ongoing involvement and hope to keep working with you to build a one-stop shop for small business advocacy, education and networking in 2010 and beyond. Please enjoy time with your family and friends this holiday season and think about how you’d like to build Oregon’s small business economy in the new year.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) unveiled the final version of the Senate health care bill this morning, titled the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act. The bill is estimated to cost $849 billion over ten years while providing coverage to 31 million uninsured Americans.

What’s Included?

ImageThe bill intends to provide health care coverage for 94 percent of Americans while meeting President Obama’s cost goals. The Senate leadership has produced a short summary of the bill that breaks down what’s included.

What Happens Right Away?Image

Many of the bill’s provisions, including the public option, won’t take effect for a few years. However, the Senate leadership has provided a look at what parts of the bill would be implemented immediately. Insurance market reforms, closing the Medicare Part D coverage gap and extending coverage for dependents will all be seen right away.

How is it Different from the House Bill?

With a different price tag, an “opt-out” provision for the public option and a lower estimate for how many people will be covered, the Senate bill can be distinguished from the House bill in a number of ways. The Associated Press has published a simple comparison piece to help you understand how the bills are similar and how they are different.

The bill, like the House version, is an enormous step forward in reforming our nation’s broken health care system. While not perfect, it represents a historic stepping stone to real health care reform that works for small businesses. As it moves to the floor this month and next, we need to redouble our efforts in contacting Senators Merkley and Wyden, writing letters to the editors of our local newspapers and asking our friends and colleagues to do the same to truly express the voice of small business in Oregon.

Last Saturday, as four of Oregon’s five congressional representatives voted in favor of groundbreaking health care reform, Representative Greg Walden stood alone in his opposition.

Around a month ago, however, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, on which Representative Walden sits, published a report on how health care reform would affect Representative Walden’s district. Included in the report are facts and figures on the impacts of health care reform on individuals and small businesses.

Read the report here.

OSBC member Jenelle Isaacson of Living Room Realtors in Portland published a letter to the editor of the Oregonian today about Senator Jeff Merkley’s provision for the Senate health care bill to require employers to provide reasonable break time and clean, private space for nursing mothers to express breast milk.

From the letter:

Like 72 percent of moms, I work full-time. I am writing in support of Sen. Jeff Merkley’s amendment to the final health care bill that provides for nursing mothers a reasonable break time to express milk at their place of employment (paid or unpaid) for one year after the birth of their child.

Read the rest of Jenelle’s terrific letter here.

State political blog Blue Oregon featured this morning an opinion piece from OSBC Action Team member Nancie Koerber of Champions Realtime Training in Central Point about the importance of health care reform for small business owners.

From the piece:

Small businesses in America now make up at least 60 percent of jobs. Every small business should be able to afford quality health coverage. We’re willing to contribute, but we can’t do it alone. We need real choice and real competition.

The most important thing I learned from the trip is that Capitol Hill is like an anthill crawling with little worker ants. Most of them were very high paid lobbyists. They get their voice heard by constantly being there and offering campaign contributions and fact-impaired data to persuade our leaders. It is imperative that we continue to have our voices heard.

Read the rest of the piece and comment here.

House Democrats have worked incredibly hard this week to prepare a solid health care reform bill to bring to the floor. After receiving the backing of AARP and the American Medical Association, the bill has also been endorsed by President Obama and is expected to come to a vote on Saturday evening.

Now is the time to make a final call to your representative and, if you live in the districts of Reps. Blumenauer (202-225-4811), Wu (202-225-0855) or DeFazio (202-225-6416), thank him for his ongoing support of this reform and encourage his Yes vote tomorrow.

Rep. Kurt Schrader (OR-5)

URGENT: If you live in Rep. Schrader’s district, please call and urge him to vote Yes on this bill to control costs, increase competition and better serve small businesses. Rep. Schrader was a small business owner in his private sector career, and you are perhaps the most important voice in getting him to vote for the bill. He has indicated his intent to vote against it, but we believe that small business will be the push to get him there by tomorrow.

Representative Schrader’s D.C. office: 202-225-5711
Oregon City: 503-557-1324
Salem: 503-588-9100

The Oregon Small Business Council offered its support today for Senator Jeff Merkley’s provision of the HELP Committee health care bill to require employers to allow reasonable break times for nursing mothers to express breast milk in the first year of an infant’s life.

This existing Oregon law has worked quite well and will be an excellent addition to the final health care reform bill. It is important that it be included in the final Senate bill to support working families across the nation.

Here is the official text of OSBC’s letter to Senator Merkley:

October 30, 2009

The Honorable Jeff Merkley

United States Senate

107 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Merkley:

I am writing on behalf of the more than 400 small business owners that comprise the Oregon Small Business Council to thank you for your tremendous leadership in working to overhaul our nation’s broken health care system. As a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, you were a tireless advocate for small businesses, Oregonians and all Americans.

We would particularly like to praise your leadership in bringing an existing Oregon law to the national stage to help working mothers take time to express breast milk for infants in the first year of life. This provision will establish a terrific opportunity for working mothers around the country to build healthier children and better workplaces.

The law is working well in Oregon and we believe it will be just as successful across the nation, as employers offer small amounts of time to allow mothers to provide for the wellbeing of their children. As you know, low breastfeeding rates have been linked to an increase in infant mortality rates and a variety of illnesses later in life. Balancing the needs of a career with the importance of motherhood is difficult, and this provision will ease that burden significantly for working families across the nation.

Again, we truly appreciate your commitment to small business owners, working families and all Oregonians. We support your provision to allow break time for nursing mothers and look forward to working with you as we continue to move toward a health care system that works for small businesses and all Americans.