Video: Obama slams Staples for discouraging part-time workers to get ObamaCare
posted at 2:01 pm on February 11, 2015 by Ed Morrissey
Which is actually the opposite of what’s happening at Staples. Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith got a one-on-one interview with Barack Obama and offered a few challenging questions on foreign policy and Obama’s lack of success on behalf of some parts of his voting coalition. This question about Staples, a story on which Buzzfeed reported earlier, looked like more of a slam dunk, but Obama ended up getting it wrong in the end (via NewsAlert):
BuzzFeed News: If I can move on to the Affordable Care Act. We reported yesterday that the office supply store Staples is — I’m sure this is an issue you’ve heard about before — is telling its workers that it will fire them if they work more than 25 hours a week. A manager had told a worker we talked to that “Obama’s responsible for this policy,” and they’re putting these notices on the wall of their break room saying that. I wonder what you’d say to the CEO of Staples, Ronald Sargent, about that policy?
Obama: What I would say is that millions of people are benefiting from the Affordable Care Act. Satisfaction is high. The typical premium is less than 100 bucks.
BuzzFeed News: But this is a specific consequence…
Obama: No, I’m gonna answer the question. And that there is no reason for an employer who is not currently providing health care to their workers to discourage them from either getting health insurance on the job or being able to avail themselves of the Affordable Care Act. I haven’t looked at Staples stock lately or what the compensation of the CEO is, but I suspect that they could well afford to treat their workers favorably and give them some basic financial security, and if they can’t, then they should be willing to allow those workers to get the Affordable Care Act without cutting wages. [emphasis mine — Ed] This is the same argument that I’ve made with respect to something like paid sick leave. We have 43 million Americans who, if they get sick or their child gets sick, are looking at either losing their paycheck or going to the job sick or leaving their child at home sick. It’s one thing when you’ve got a mom-and-pop store who can’t afford to provide paid sick leave or health insurance or minimum wage to workers — even though a large percentage of those small businesses do it because they know it’s the right thing to do — but when I hear large corporations that make billions of dollars in profits trying to blame our interest in providing health insurance as an excuse for cutting back workers’ wages, shame on them.
Er, what? No one is preventing these part-time workers from “get[ting] the Affordable Care Act.” In fact, that’s exactly what Staples is encouraging them to do — get their own health insurance through the exchanges. Staples executives are protecting the shareholders at whom Obama scoffs from paying large costs associated with the kind of employer-based policies that ObamaCare mandates by limiting their hours. By doing so, those employees can get their coverage through a state or federal ACA exchange.
In fact, there’s no way Staples could prevent them from “get[ing] the Affordable Care Act,” except by providing employer-based coverage, at which point they would become ineligible for the ACA’s subsidies. For that matter, if the typical premium is only $100 or less (thanks to those taxpayer-provided subsidies), the ACA would be a better deal for part-timers, no? I’d bet that Staples’ full-time employees are paying more than $100 a month for their contributions. The reason the manager stated that “Obama’s responsible for this policy” is because the ACA mandates that employers provide coverage for anyone who works 30 or more hours a week. That was a price incentive that anyone other than the current administration could see coming a mile away. (However, the policy itself is ten or more years old, Staples said earlier today, which makes this a bit of poetic license on the part of the manager who created the sign. Staples also said it regularly promotes people to full time positions from their part time staff, including into management.)
Remember when Democrats liked the idea of people getting their own coverage rather than relying on their employers? Here’s Nancy Pelosi in March 2010 lamenting the “job locking” that prevented an artistic renaissance in America, or something:
So, you can‘t—everybody has so much to gain from this, small businesses, as I said, seniors, young people, women, our economy. Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance or that people could start a business and be entrepreneurial and take risk, but not job loss because of a child with asthma or someone in the family is bipolar—you name it, any condition—is job locking.
And again in May 2010:
And two years ago:
Looks like even passing the bill hasn’t made Obama familiar with what’s in it.
Regarding the interview itself, BuzzFeed seems to have acquitted itself well. There were plenty of jokes about cat GIFs when the interview was announced, but this was not a bad effort — and certainly better than Vox’s interview, which Jack Shafer called “Nerf ball” questioning that sounded “like extended commercials for the Obama-in-2016 campaign. I’ve seen subtler Scientology recruitment films.” Obama’s missteps in these interviews seem to be in part because his guard was down, expecting friendly treatment and assuming he was talking within the club, as it were. He might do better by facing off against those from media that treats Obama and his administration more critically. If he ever wants to give that a try, I’d be happy to take him up on it.