The U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday to redefine full-time employment under the healthcare reform law as 40 hours a week, but Republicans failed to win enough support to override a promised presidential veto.
The proposal cleared the House by a 252-172 margin, with 12 Democrats joining all Republicans in voting for the change to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's employer mandate.
The legislation would alter the definition of full-time work under the ACA from 30 hours a week to 40 hours a week for the purpose of calculating whether an employer is required under the law to provide health coverage. Supporters of the change, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, argue that the current standard deviates from the widely accepted definition of full-time work. They also argue that it provides an incentive for employers to reduce hours, particularly for low-wage workers, to avoid offering healthcare coverage.
“There's plenty of evidence in every congressional district across the country that people are hurting,” said Rep. Todd Young (R-Ind.), the chief sponsor of the legislation, during the House floor debate.
Under the federal healthcare law, businesses with at least 100 employees must offer coverage this year to most workers or face a financial penalty, typically $2,000 per worker. In 2016, the employer mandate will apply to businesses with 50 or more employees.
An analysis of the bill by the Congressional Budget Office found that it would increase the deficit by $53 billion over a decade, largely because fewer employers would pay penalties. It also determined that 1 million fewer individuals would be offered coverage through their jobs if the full-time threshold is changed to 40 hours a week.
Democrats cited the CBO findings as evidence that the proposal is simply another attempt by Republicans to sabotage the federal healthcare law. “This effort is really about repealing the bill,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the ranking minority member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “The Republicans know that they can't repeal it outright, so now they're trying to do it piece by piece.”
Attention will now turn to the Senate, where prospects for the legislation receiving a vote remain uncertain. Procedural rules require 60 votes to consider most legislation. That means Republicans will have to entice at least six senators who caucus with the Democrats to join them in order to bring the employer-mandate proposal to the floor. So far Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia are backing the bill.
Amanda Austin, vice president of public policy at the National Federation of Independent Business, which supports the 40-hour work week bill, suggested support could also come from Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Angus King (I-Maine) and Mark Warner (D-Va.). “I think it's got strength behind it for a vote,” Austin said.
But even if the legislation eventually clears the Senate, enactment appears unlikely. That's because on Wednesday, President Barack Obama issued a statement indicating that he plans to veto the legislation if it reaches his desk. His comments represent the first test of how flexible he will be in accepting changes to the landmark healthcare law with Republicans in full control of Congress.
Neil Trautwein, vice president of health policy for the National Retail Federation, which supports the employer mandate bill, said he's disappointed, but not surprised, by Obama's veto threat. “I really see this as an opportunity to show that Congress can work together to address specific problems with the ACA,” Trautwein said. “This isn't something that's gutting the ACA.”
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