The Republican 40-Hour Work Week Scam

Bill Scher

One of the first bills passed by the new Republican House after being in session for three days was the “Save American Workers Act of 2015” – and by “save” Republicans meant saving 1.5 million workers from the burden of having health insurance.

The Republican bill won’t save taxpayers any money. It would push more workers into receiving government-subsidized health insurance, costing $53.2 billion over 10 years. But it will save employers from taking responsibility for their employees’ health.

At issue is the “employer mandate” component of the Affordable Care Act. As of this month, large businesses with 100 or more full-time employees need to provide health coverage to 70 percent of their employees. (Next year, the mandate will apply to mid-sized businesses of 50 to 99 employees, and large businesses will have to cover nearly all of their full-time employees.) Small businesses are exempt.

To prevent employers from getting cute with who should be considered “full-time” under the mandate, and trimming weekly work hours to just under 40, the law deems a full-timer anyone working at least 30 hours a week.

Business lobbyists don’t like this because it means forcing resistant employers to provide health coverage. But they don’t want to admit that. So they are trying to sound populist, disingenuously suggesting the Obama is mandating businesses cut weekly work hours from 40 to 30.

You can see how intellectually bankrupt this argument is when you watch the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s propaganda video “More Time For Full Time.”

The ad begins with a seemingly middle-class women lamenting that workers don’t have enough free leisure time – a problem of working too many hours, not too few.

Then, as the ad complains about a “mandated 30-hour work week” (which, again, Obamacare does not do), the Chamber gives away the game: “30 hours isn’t a reality for small businesses, or employees who can’t afford to work less.”

Put aside the fact that, once more with emphasis, small businesses are exempt from the employer mandate, the ad cops to the fact that the vast majority of business aren’t going to revert to 30-hour work weeks because it doesn’t make business sense.

Don’t believe me? Then maybe you’ll believe this former Heritage Foundation health policy analyst:

As the job market strengthens, employers will be less inclined to cut hours or drop coverage because workers will be able to look elsewhere for better benefits, said Stuart Butler, who spent 35 years at the conservative Heritage Foundation before moving to the Brookings Institution.

“We’re not seeing as much of a change of behavior among employers as some of us had feared,” Mr. Butler said. “And I think that would be the case here, too.”

(Incidentally, that’s the guy who came up with the individual mandate back in 1989.)

Fortunately, this Republican bill is on a road to nowhere. Only 12 House Democrats broke ranks, not nearly enough to override a promised White House veto.

But it reveals the Republican heart. One of the first things they chose to do upon seizing full control of Congress is take away health insurance from workers under the guise of helping them.

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