Message On Health: 'Bite Back'

June 02, 1994|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,Sun Staff Writer

Herman Cain, the fast-food restaurant executive who's been dueling with President Clinton over health care reform, brought his fight against key aspects of the Clinton plan to Maryland yesterday, enlisting dozens of small business owners to lobby Congress using a new telephone hot line.

"The government's bite is big enough. We've got to bite back," he told an audience of about 60 people, mostly from the restaurant business.

Mr. Cain, president and chief executive of Omaha-based Godfather's Pizza Inc. and president of the National Restaurant Association, first challenged Mr. Clinton's idea to force employers to pick up the bulk of health care costs in a televised town meeting with the President in April and again in a letter published in the Wall Street Journal.

If employers are forced to pay for 80 percent of the health care for their employees as Mr. Clinton's plan requires, Mr. Cain said, his own company's health care tab would be three times its current net income.

Yesterday, speaking at a pep rally at the BWI Airport Marriott Hotel, he denounced the Clinton plan as an entitlement that would create bureaucracy and stifle the market reforms that have led to lower prices over the past year.

He also introduced the restaurant association's plan to mobilize the industry -- a "bite back" card featuring an 800 telephone number that each member can call weekly for recorded instructions from Mr. Cain on what to tell their representatives in Congress that week. Mr. Cain said he has received 6,000 requests for the card in the two weeks that it has been available.

The Bite Back card got rave reviews from some yesterday.

"Congratulations!" said Tommy Tavenner, owner of Tavenner's Silo Inn in Olney.

"I agree with his [Mr. Cain's] traditional approach to government -- that it's 'By the people,' " said Mr. Tavenner, 41, who is also running in the Democratic primary in a state House district in Montgomery County.

The restaurant association has 25,000 members representing 150,000 establishments. In Maryland, three out of four restaurants had annual sales of less than $500,000 last year, and the median salary for an owner in this group was $30,000.

Many small businesses oppose the president's plan, arguing their profit margins would be wiped out. The plan and competing versions are being considered by five congressional committees, with action expected on some of them in July.

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