On Tuesday, Congress was sworn in for their 114th session and members went straight to work on fixing the health reform law. Both the House and Senate introduced NAHU-supported legislation for the use of the traditional 40-hour workweek definition of a full-time employee for the purpose of the PPACA employer mandate, as opposed to the 30 hours for full-time employee status under PPACA’s current employer shared responsibility provisions. In the House, Representatives Todd Young (R-IN) and Dan Lipinski (D-IL) introduced H.R. 30, the Save American Workers Act, and Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) introduced S. 30, the Forty Hours is Full Time Act, in the Senate. Once introduced, both bills began the fast track to being passed by their respective chambers.
Yesterday, the House passed H.R. 30 by a vote of 252-172. The vote fell largely along party lines, with all Republicans voting in favor and 12 Democrats crossing the aisle in support. The Democratic support is down by six votes from last year’s vote on a similar bill, and points to the difficulty for both parties in creating widespread bipartisan coalitions in an increasingly polarized Congress where moderates have been driven out through either retirements or defeated for reelection. We thank everyone who participated in the operation shout this week. Because of your help, NAHU members generated over 6,400 messages to congressional offices to show our support, joining more than 300 other organizations urging Congress to make this change.
The bill now heads to the Senate, which is under the new management of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). With Republicans in control of both chambers, the Senate will be taking up more House-passed legislation for consideration, as Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is no longer able to serve as a gatekeeper of the upper chamber’s agenda. Leader McConnell has indicated that he plans to take up the House approved legislation as the chamber also considers its own 30-hours bill, S. 30. Lamar Alexander, the new chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, announced that he would be holding a hearing on the S. 30 this month, but did not provide a firm date as of yet.
One of the hurdles that McConnell will face with both 40 hour bills is whether he can get enough votes to get cloture, AKA a 60-vote threshold to thwart a filibuster by Democrats that would prevent the legislation from coming to the floor. Republicans currently hold 54 seats and would need six Democrats to cross over in support of the bill to bring it up and pass it. They already have two—Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN), as the lead Democrat on the bill, and Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) as another original Democratic cosponsor, but finding enough other moderate Democrats will be a challenge. Many of the potential candidates, such as Mary Landrieu, Mark Pryor, Mark Begich and Kay Hagan, were defeated in last year’s election. Since President Obama has already issued a veto threat, the goal line is even further—67 votes. The top remaining moderate Democrats include Michael Bennet (CO), Bob Casey (PA), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Claire McCaskill (MO), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Jon Tester (MT) and Mark Warner (VA) as well as Angus King (ME), an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.
Leader McConnell also has to keep all of the members of his caucus in line, since some of them have indicated in the past that they merely intend to support a full repeal of PPACA, not incremental fixes to the legislation like the 40 hour bills. The GOP leadership scored a victory on this front earlier this week when Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) publicly affirmed his support for S. 40. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) so far hasn’t made a public commitment.
Another hurdle may be the bill’s “cost.” Yesterday the Congressional Budget Office released its score of the bill—the projected cost that the bill would have to the federal government due to increased spending or reduced revenues. They concluded that the legislation would add $53.2 billion to the federal deficit between 2015-25, would reduce employer-provided insurance by 1 million people, increase the uninsured by 500,000 and increase the number of individuals on Medicaid, CHIP and exchanges by 500,000 to 1 million. Leader McConnell indicated that the score would not impede the Senate’s consideration, saying that the 30-hour workweek has been wreaking havoc on families’ budgets.
In response to the progress of the legislation, the White House announced that it planned to veto any legislation that would change the workweek definition under the health reform law. The Administration argued that the bill would “increase the deficit, reduce the number of Americans with employer-based health insurance coverage, and create incentives for employers to shift their employees to part-time work—causing the problem it intends to solve."
However, NAHU believes the 30-hour requirement is hurting both American employers and the very companies that drive our economy. That’s why it is more important than ever to urge Congress to pass this legislation. Strong bipartisan support on the legislation will send a signal to the Administration of the importance of changing the workweek back to 40 hours for employers who are burdened with the extensive tracking of employee hours as well as employees who are seeing their hours slashed and paychecks reduced. You can help to spread the message of the importance of the legislation by emailing your Senators and asking them to cosponsor and vote for the 40 hours bills. You can take action today by sending an operation shout!