The House voted Thursday to eliminate a piece of ObamaCare that Republicans say is forcing millions of people to accept reduced hours and smaller paychecks.
Members passed the Save American Workers Act in a 248-179 vote, after a debate that stretched out over two days. Eighteen Democrats voted with Republicans, a bit more than the seven Democratic co-sponsors of the legislation, H.R. 2575.
Once companies have 50 or more full-time workers, they are required under the law to provide health insurance to those workers.
Republicans have said for the last several weeks that the bill is leading to reduced hours and paychecks at a time when the economy is struggling to produce solid job growth.
"ObamaCare places an unprecedented government regulation on workers, changing the definition of 'full-time work' from 40 hours per week to 30 hours," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) during Wednesday's debate. "As a direct result, Americans across the country are having their hours cut at work, and they are seeing smaller paychecks."
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Todd Young (R-Ind.), said some workers could see up to a 25 percent cut in their hours. He said that's the same percentage increase Democrats are seeking in the minimum wage. He said Democrats should support the bill if they want to see higher wages.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) went further by saying Democrats are trying to offset the lost ObamaCare wages with the minimum wage hike.
"This administration believes that they can hide the reality of the wage cuts with an increase in the minimum wage," Cantor said. "But that proposal, which the nonpartisan experts say will result in 500,000 lost jobs, is not the answer.
"The answer is restore the 40-hour workweek and let people work."
Republicans were backed this week by industry groups who said they support the bill, which would give companies the flexibility to make their own decisions about when to offer health plans to workers.
In a letter sent to members of Congress Wednesday, the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) said many companies offer health benefits at varying levels of hourly work, even when those hours are less than 40. The letter said that flexibility is working for both companies and employees.
"The ACA's definition of full-time at 30 hours a week does not reflect businesses' needs and more importantly, does not reflect employees' desire for flexible hours," the group wrote. "Retailers want to give their employees more hours and Congress needs to make it easier for employers to do that by passing H.R. 2575."
On Wednesday, one Republican said ObamaCare is also forcing different government agencies to disagree over what constitutes a full-time workweek.
But Democrats argued the 30-hour threshold is appropriate, and that changing it to 40 hours would let companies deny people health insurance when they work 39 hours a week.
"Now, they will only be forced to reduce hours from 40 to 39, as opposed to 30 to 29," said Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). "In other words, if you work 39 hours a week, you won't have to be covered."
Most Democrats cited a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis that said the bill would leave 1 million people without employer-based coverage, force most of them onto Medicaid or the ObamaCare exchanges, and leave the rest without insurance.
The CBO also said it would cost $74 billion over 10 years, and most of that is due to reduced penalties collected from employers.
"Essentially, what you are doing here today is saying to many, many people who are working hard and who need insurance that this bill will knock you off your employer-based insurance and increase the number of uninsured by half a million, while increasing the deficit by $74 billion," said Ways and Means Committee ranking member Sandy Levin (D-Mich.). "Ideology is indeed blind when this kind of a proposition is put forth."
The White House cited that same analysis this week, when it said President Obama would veto the bill if it were presented for his signature. That seems highly unlikely, as the Democratic Senate is not expected to consider the bill at all.
Like so many other ObamaCare bills, this one led to some tense debate about the overall effects of the healthcare law. During Thursday debate, House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said the $74 billion cost of the bill goes against the GOP's stated intent of trying to balance the budget.
He also said it's a "fraud" to claim that the newly released GOP budget plan can repeal ObamaCare and keep the budget in balance.
That led Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) to argue that Democrats incorrectly promised Americans that ObamaCare would let people keep their doctors and their coverage while lowering costs.
"There's not a single family in America that promise has been kept for, and then I hear the word 'fraud' from the other side of the aisle," he said.