With Republicans set to take control of both chambers of Congress, the GOP will soon get to work passing its long-stalled agenda. What agenda? Well, much of that still needs to be worked out at a joint retreat for House and Senate members which will convene in Pennsylvania in mid-January.
For now, the GOP-dominated Senate is ready to move on the delayed Keystone XL Pipeline and will then take up the task of dealing the Affordable Care Act a death by a thousand cuts. The first cut, however, is one which will raise eyebrows among both progressive populists and conservative activists.
Among the first revisions to Obamacare that the GOP hopes to pass in 2015 is one which enjoys bipartisan support: Changing the ACA’s definition of a full-time employee from someone working 30 hours per week to 40 hours per week.
This seems like common sense, but critics of the move will note that it has been a demand of industry lobbyists for some time. A coalition of K Street associations, united under the “More Time for Full-Time” initiative, has been pushing lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to remove what they see as an unfair burden on their members.
“The coalition includes some of the largest industry lobby groups in Washington, such as the IFA, the National Retail Federation, the Chamber of Commerce and the National Restaurant Association,” The Hill reported in September.
“Unless there is a statutory change to the definition of a full-time employee in the Affordable Care Act, there will be fewer full-time jobs, more part-time workers and fewer overall hours available for Americans to work,” said International Franchise Association (IFA) President Steve Caldeira in a statement.
Opponents of the 30-hour full-time component of the ACA claim that it creates a clear incentive for firms to shift more of their employees to part-time status. Defenders of the provision insist that there is little evidence to suggest that this shift has been occurring.
Progressive populists will claim that the move allows more employers to unfairly deny providing their employees with health coverage, while conservatives will chafe at the GOP’s efforts to mitigate the damage the ACA will do to both the macro economy as well as individual pocketbooks.
This move is not going to be uncontroversial.
The larger problem with this maneuver, it seems, is that it makes compliance with the selectively implemented employer mandate even easier. As portions of that mandate come into effect for firms with over 100 full-time employees this year, companies will face fines if they don’t offer coverage or even one of their employees receives subsidized insurance via the ACA’s individual exchanges. For companies that decline to provide this coverage, the fine is a not insignificant $174 per month times the number of full-time employees minus the first 80 workers. The fine is increased to $261 per month if the insurance offered is not, according to an arbitrarily worded CNN report, “considered affordable or comprehensive.”
The White House delayed the implementation of the employer mandate for firms with fewer than 50 people on staff; the majority of America’s businesses and the subject of a lawsuit in which the House of Representative contends the administration is circumventing their constitutional authority to write statute.
Surely, eliminating the 30-hour work week provision conforms to the standards of America’s work ethic. The French experiment of high taxes and a modest labor burden has been rejected by even the French. It stands, however, that the Congress has determined that their first assault on the ACA is one that will make the law less onerous for large employers and will facilitate a goal of Obamacare’s framers by consigning more Americans to the individual exchanges for their insurance needs.
As one facet of a multipronged effort to derail the ACA, this makes sense. Coupled only with, say, the elimination of the tax on medical devices, this seems like a half measure. The Republicans in Congress have a responsibility to defang Obamacare and making it less problematic for those firms that must comport with its mandates will not accomplish this.