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Senate Explores New Options for Health Reform

THE Senate Finance Committee is looking at the possibility of taxing employee health benefits to help pay for health-insurance reform as Democrats explore alternatives to cushion small businesses from the burden of insuring workers.

Senate majority leader George Mitchell (D) of Maine said Tuesday he offered colleagues at a private Democratic lunch three more options, including exempting employers with fewer than 10 employees entirely from having to buy insurance, providing additional subsidies, and changing the ratio of employer-employee contributions from 80-20 to 50-50.

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Meanwhile, a survey of business members of the United States Chamber of Commerce that drew responses from nearly 40,000 businesses found 71 percent opposed to the employer mandate and 24 percent in favor.

The chamber came under pressure from Republicans in Congress to back off its former support for the idea of a ``shared responsibility'' between employers and employees to pay for health insurance. A small business group, the National Federation of Independent Business, has led a fervid lobbying drive to kill the Clinton employer mandate. Boren to resign from Senate

SEN. David Boren of Oklahoma, a maverick Democrat who had presidential ambitions two years ago, is expected to resign from the Senate to become president of the University of Oklahoma.

Senator Boren will step down at the end of this fall's congressional session, sources said. ``It's absolutely certain,'' a lobbyist said. ``And he's called at least two members of the [congressional delegation] and told them if they want to run for his seat to get ready.''

Boren was to make the announcement yesterday, when the university Board of Regents was to meet to name the school's new president. Boren and aides refused to confirm or deny the report.

The lawyer, Rhodes scholar, and former politics professor at Oklahoma Baptist University was elected to the Senate in 1978, after four years as governor. He has helped lead Democratic campaign-finance-reform efforts.

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