Eighteen House Democrats ignored President Obama's veto threat and helped Republicans pass a bill Thursday that rewrites the health care law to define full-time work as 40 hours per week — and not 30 — out of concern the current rules are forcing Americans to work fewer hours and earn less.
The chamber approved the Save American Workers Act, 248-179, sending it to the Democrat-controlled Senate, where its far less likely to get a vote.
Despite more than a dozen defectors, most House Democrats said the GOP majority was wasting its time in holding yet another vote to change or strip down Obamacare. Republicans countered that the bill, far from repealing Obamacare, would be a common-sense fix to what they see as a flaw within the law.
"The French consider 35 hours full-time," Rep. Tim Griffin, Arkansas Republican, said, saying Americans should at least be able to agree that 40 hours used to be the standard.
Critics say the 30-hour threshold contained in the health care law's "employer mandate" will harm workers in the food service industry and other sectors because it incentivizes employers to slash hours and avoid the costs of providing health coverage.
The mandate, which will be phased in through 2016, requires employers of 50 or more full-time workers to provide health coverage or pay fines. But it defines a full-time worker as someone who labors for 30 hours per week, giving companies a reason to trim some employees' weekly hours to 29 or fewer, critics say, because owners 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 employer 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.
"At a time when three-quarters of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, the last thing our economy and our small businesses can afford is another barrier to job growth," House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said. "The House took an important step to help increase wages and protect middle-class families today, but as I’ve said many times, Republicans will continue working to scrap this law and pave the way for patient-centered solutions focused on lowering health care costs and protecting jobs."
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.
The White House said this week that Mr. Obama strongly opposes the House bill, "because it would significantly increase the deficit and reduce the number of Americans with employer-based health insurance coverage."
Rep. Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat, said business owners are the ones calling the shots, and Obamacare does not mandate them to cut hours.
"There is no such thing in the law," he said.
Democrats also say the law is working and that House Republican should stop brining up bills like the one that passed Thursday.
"This is worse than an exercise in futility," Rep. Sander Levin, Michigan Democrat, said. "This is an exercise in doing harm when ACA is bringing benefits to millions and millions of people."
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