House Passes 40-hour Workweek for Obamacare; Just 12 Democrats Back Change01/08/2015
Congress took its first swipes at Obamacare on Thursday with the House approving a bill to cancel the law's 30-hour workweek provision, though only a dozen Democrats bucked President Obama on the vote.
Republicans set the showdown as an initial test of how many Democrats would be willing to defect against a lame-duck president and after the GOP relentlessly attacked Obamacare in November's election campaigns, riding those attacks to big gains.
The legislation would repeal the provision that defines the 30-hour-per-week work threshold that determines when businesses have to face the health insurance coverage mandate. Critics say it scraps the traditional 40-hour workweek and takes pay out of Americans' pockets because some employers are cutting hours to below 30 a week to get around the law.
"It's the fantasyland of Obamacare," said Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
The bill cleared on a 252-172 vote, with more than enough opposition from Democrats to sustain a presidential veto. Senate Democrats are vowing opposition and could muster support to filibuster it.
"If members of Congress want to start the year off right, they should support American workers, not play political games that jeopardize their hard-earned health care benefits," said Sen. Christopher Murphy, Connecticut Democrat and a vocal champion for Obamacare.
The bill would push up to 1 million people out of employer-sponsored insurance, and many of them would end up on Medicaid or on subsidized insurance plans on the health care exchanges. The Congressional Budget Office said that would cost taxpayers an additional $53 billion over the next decade.
The White House and congressional Democrats said an even larger pool of workers — those who put in 40 hours per week — would have their hours cut to 39 or less if the bill becomes law.
Democrats criticized Republicans for scheduling the health care vote so early in the congressional session. They said the legislation was a continuation of the dozens of Obamacare repeals and tweaks that Republicans pushed through the House in the previous Congress, only to have them stall in the Senate.
This year, the Senate is controlled by Republicans, but it's not clear that the bill will succeed.
Just two Senate Democrats, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, have signed on as co-sponsors.
Republican leaders are expected to follow up their 40-hour mandate with votes to repeal a contentious excise tax on medical devices. That legislation has the support of at least two dozen House Democrats.
Most lawmakers agree that scrapping the law is a quixotic dream so long as Mr. Obama wields a veto pen, and even House Democrats who voted for the 40-hour bill described it as a fix, not an attack on the Affordable Care Act.
"I have not and I do not support the repeal of the [health care law], but some common-sense changes need to be made," Rep. Daniel Lipinski, Illinois Democrat, said Thursday.
He was one of 18 Democrats to vote for a similar bill last spring.
The lower total of Democrats this year was chiefly the result of losses in November elections, which cost some of the more conservative Democrats their seats.
Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr. of Georgia was the only Democrat to switch positions and vote "no" this year. A spokesman could not be reached late Thursday for an explanation.
Restaurant associations and other business lobbies that have pushed hard for a 40-hour definition cheered the House's move and urged the Senate to follow suit.
"There's bipartisan agreement in the House and in the Senate that the 30-hour workweek provision of the law was an unfortunate mistake," said Dan Danner, president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business.
Republicans said the bill aligned with Mr. Obama's vow to consider bipartisan improvements and that Democrats will be guilty of "empty rhetoric" if they ignore fixes.
Democrats, though, said Republicans are feigning concern for struggling Americans.
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