Democrats cheer Salazar at Steamboat event |

Democrats cheer Salazar at Steamboat event

Congressman touts health bill tax credits

Mike Lawrence

Routt County Democrats Bob Steele and Diane White-Crane visit during the Routt County Democratic Party's annual Jefferson-Jackson Potluck Dinner and Fundraiser on Saturday at the Steamboat Springs Community Center.
Matt Stensland

— U.S. Rep. John Salazar touted the health care legislation's tax credits for small businesses and the middle class Saturday night at a fundraiser for local Democrats, who expressed strong appreciation for the Colorado congressman's eff­orts in the nation's capital.

"Thirty to 40 percent of this bill is tax cuts for middle America," Salazar, a Democrat from the San Luis Valley, said to a crowd of about 150 at the Steamboat Springs Community Center, where he was the keynote speaker at the Routt County Democrats' annual Jefferson-Jackson Potluck Dinner and Fundraiser.

As an example of those tax cuts, Salazar cited a provision that allows most small-business owners to receive a tax credit this year equivalent to 35 percent of their contribution to employees' health care premiums.

"That's a tax cut to small businesses — and they are the backbone to job creation in this country," Salazar said.

The evening had to feel good for the third-term congressman.

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Days after voting for the sweeping health care bill that spurred debate across the nation, and was opposed by every House Republican and kicked up all kinds of partisan dust in the political arenas of Washington, D.C., Salazar flew to Denver on Saturday and then drove to Steamboat Springs, capping an exhausting and exhilarating week.

He received three standing ovations and shook nearly every hand in the room.

"I came personally to thank John Salazar for his health care vote," Hayden resident Bill Hayden said.

"In spite of all the opposition you faced, you had the guts and courage to vote for health care reform," Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall, running for re-election, said to Salazar during his turn with the microphone. "Thank you, sir."

President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law Tuesday. A smaller companion bill, the Health Care & Education Affordability Re­­­conciliation Act, is awaiting Obama's signature and would modify the larger bill.

Overall, the legislation would extend health care coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans in the next decade, requiring most Americans to purchase health care or face penalties if they refuse. The bill includes subsidies for families earning as much as $88,000 per year and would end insurance practices such as the denial of coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions.

Salazar represents Routt County and the rest of Colorado's 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Local Demo­crats gave him an enthusiastic reception at their annual fundraiser, which also included remarks from local candidates including Wall, Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush and Darrel Levingston, who is running for Routt Co­­­unty Coroner against incumbent Republican Rob Ryg.

Steamboat Springs High School freshman Katherine Mannon, 14, opened the event by singing "The Star-Spangled Banner." Members of the Mannon family — also including Esther, Nicole, Ashley and J.P. — were named the county party's volunteers of the year.

But Salazar's appearance was the highlight Saturday night.

"I know in my heart that for my district, this was the right vote," Salazar said. "Only history will determine the outcome of that vote."

The health care bill drew local fire earlier this week, when Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. executives cited a potential $2 million cost to their business in 2014 from a policy that requires businesses with more than 50 full-time employees to provide health insurance, or a percentage of its costs, to each full-time employee. Failure to do so when the policy takes effect in 2014 would result in the per-employee fine.

The policy would apply to seasonal workers at Steamboat Ski Area because full-time employees are designated in the bill as those who work more than 120 days.

"That needs to go to 180 days," Salazar said, expressing confidence that the change can be made before the policy takes effect.

Much of Salazar's comments focused on stories he heard within the 3rd Congressional District of families struggling to meet huge health-care-related challenges.

"If people can stand here and say health care is not in a crisis, I don't know what kind of heart we have in this country," Salazar said.

Salazar said he plans to return to Steamboat on Friday for the Hometown Heroes Celebration honoring local winter Olympians.