POLITICS
01/08/2015 02:26 pm ET Updated Jan 08, 2015

House Passes Bill To Weaken Obamacare

WASHINGTON -- In yet another attempt to roll back President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, House Republicans passed a bill Thursday that they said protects the 40-hour workweek, but that Congress' own budget analyst says damages it.

The "Save American Workers Act" targets the requirement under Obamacare that larger employers provide health insurance to employees who work at least 30 hours per week, or pay fines. The bill, which raises the threshold to 40 hours, passed 252 to 172. Twelve Democrats voted in favor.

Republican backers of the change say that it would protect workers from having their hours cut to less than 30 per week by employers who don't want to provide health insurance. To make their case, they pointed to numerous anecdotes of firms doing just that.

"What we are seeing is the bill has fundamentally changed labor law in this country, creating a new standard 30-hour workweek. As a result, workers hours are being cut, and productivity in this country … will decrease over time," said Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) in supporting the procedural rule that passed 244 to 181 earlier on Thursday, paving the way for the bill's passage. Just three Democrats voted in favor of the procedural rule.

"We have heard story after story from every state in the union that employers are dropping workers' hours from less than 39 hours a week to perhaps less than 29," he said.

However, official data maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that there has actually been no shift toward greater part-time work. In fact, the data shows part-time employment spiked with the recession, and has been decreasing since passage of Obamacare in 2010.

In addition, Democrats were quick to note that the official nonpartisan analyst for the House, the Congressional Budget Office, warned as recently as Wednesday that the measure was likely to create even more part-time workers. That's because vastly more Americans work 40-hour weeks than 30-hour weeks, and employers would have a greater incentive to reduce their hours if the threshold was 40 per week. The change would end up forcing some 1 million people off employer-backed health insurance, add up to 1 million people to government-backed insurance, and cause 500,000 to lose health insurance altogether, according to the CBO. The change would also add $53.2 billion to the deficit over 10 years, the CBO found. The GOP bill proposed no way to pay for that added expense.

Numerous independent groups across the political spectrum echoed the analysis, from the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities to the conservative National Review and libertarian Cato Institute. The conservatives do not support Obamacare, but agree the 40-hour shift could hurt workers. They also suspect Republicans could have done better by trying to repeal the employer mandate altogether, since more Democrats have shown some willingness for that option.

But there was very little support on the Democratic side of the aisle for Thursday's bill.

"If this very dangerous provision were to become law, many, many Americans would find themselves cut from 40 to 39 hours, 39 and a half hours," said Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) during a debate on the House floor. "Go home at 4:30 on Friday. Sorry, no health care."

"This is simply a bad idea, a disincentive for companies to even provide healthcare to their employees. Not only that, this is a deficit buster," Polis added. "How are we going to pay for this $53 billion that this costs?"

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that he was eager to take up the bill, downplaying the deficit impact.

"Regardless of what the congressional budget view may be of the impact on the U.S. budget," McConnell said, "we know the impact on family budgets, and it’s not good. So I think there’s almost no chance we won’t be voting on that at some point."

Obama has promised to veto the bill.

This story has been updated to reflect that the bill passed on Thursday. Jeffrey Young contributed reporting.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

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