House Republicans moved along a bill Wednesday that would rewrite the health care law to define full-time work as 40 hours per week —rather than the 30 it now prescribes — out of concern the current rules give employers an incentive to slash workers’ hours.
The House voted mostly along party lines to approve the boundaries of debate on the Save American Workers Act, a key procedural step before its likely passage Thursday.
More Democrats may ignore President Obama’s veto threat and support the bill’s actual passage, while others accused the Republican majority of trying once more to meddle with Mr. Obama’s signature law.
“It does not repeal the Affordable Care Act,” countered Rep. Michael Burgess, Texas Republican.
Republican lawmakers say the 30-hour threshold contained in the health care law’s “employer mandate” will devastate workers in the food service industry and other sectors.
The mandate, which is phased in through 2016, requires employers with 50 or more full-time workers to provide health insurance or pay fines.
But it defines a full-time worker as someone who labors for at least 30 hours per week, giving companies an incentive to trim weekly hours to 29 or fewer, critics say, because they previously considered them part-time workers who did not meet a 40-hour threshold for benefits.
Fast-food restaurants and other retailers cried foul over the mandate early on, and the administration has delayed it twice, leading some to accuse the White House of putting it off until the mid-term elections are over.
On Wednesday, the National Retail Foundation urged lawmakers to support the House bill.
“It is, after all, a common sense approach,” said David French, a senior vice president at the foundation.
The Obama administration said it strongly opposed the House bill, “because it would significantly increase the deficit and reduce the number of Americans with employer-based health insurance coverage.”
“This legislation would weaken a provision of the Affordable Care Act that keeps employers from dropping health insurance coverage and shifting the costs to taxpayers,” it said.
The origin of the 30-hour threshold is a mystery to many, although some industry experts have said it is a longstanding benchmark for determining which employees should get health benefits.
Sen. Joe Donnelly, Indiana Democrat, has worked with Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, on a bill in the upper chamber to change the Obamacare definition from 30 hours to 40 hours.