You could see this one coming down Sepulveda, ever since the Senate started doing carve-outs for individual unions to exempt them from the excise tax:

Unions tentatively struck a deal Tuesday to exempt collectively bargained healthcare plans from a tax on high-cost plans expected to be used to help raise revenue for the healthcare overhaul.

On the one hand, it’s the job of the unions to look out for their members. With the White House heavily promoting the Cadillac tax since the minute they got into office, it was going to be exceptionally difficult to beat the excise tax back.

But the reason that so many supported Richard Trumka’s tough stance (“We won’t support the bill if it doesn’t have a public option in it”) was because they were deeply affected by the outcome of the health care bill, whether they were in a union or not, and they rallied around his leadership. Without that broad support of the public cheering them on, they would not have had the ability to move the White House at all.

Jon Walker and I were talking about this at lunch today. He started calling the excise tax the “teacher’s tax,” because it affects companies that hire older workers. “If you hire 28 year-olds to make snowboards you can have boob jobs and dental and whatever you want in your plan and you’ll never hit the cap,” he says. “But if you’ve got a bunch of middle aged diabetic women working for you, you’ll barely be able to find junk insurance. It’s pure age and sex discrimination.”

All the aggro coming from members of Congress today about the health care bill is due to the fact that the natural financial constituency of the left is the liberal interest groups, and the unions are the most financially powerful. When they want to shake things up, they can do it. Expect that when the unions settle for toenail clippings in the health care bill for the promise of an EFCA vote that will never happen, most of that “aggro” will disappear.

But the day of reckoning for the unions is fast arriving, too. They’re already under tremendous pressure from their locals and members to demand more on health care, and they’re being pacified by promises of an impending EFCA victory — but only just. That dam isn’t going to hold much longer, and now that the unions have decided to jump in a bunker in an “every man for himself” crouch I don’t forsee much of a public outcry if they don’t get one.