The House on Thursday in a 252-172 vote approved legislation that would waive fees on businesses that do not offer health insurance to employees working fewer than 40 hours per week.
The legislation – which has been at the center of a heavy corporate lobbying campaign – only received 12 Democratic votes. Eighteen Democrats backed the bill during a House vote on the same issue last spring.
No Republicans opposed the measure.
The legislation is the GOP’s first chance to deliver an anti-ObamaCare bill to the president’s desk. It will now advance to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellSenate passes stopgap funding bill, averting shutdown Senate advances funding measure, avoiding shutdown President Obama should curb mass incarceration with clemency MORE has promised it will see a vote.
Republicans said the current statute gives employers an incentive to cut workers' hours to avoid paying fines as a result of the healthcare law. The healthcare law imposes fees on businesses that do not provide health insurance to employees who work 30 hours per week.
“The law punishes employers who provide workers with full-time jobs,” said House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.).
But Democrats argued that increasing the healthcare law’s definition of a full-time workweek would result in more employees being forced to work more hours and still not be eligible for insurance.
“This bill will allow you to work 10 more hours without health care. Isn't that wonderful?” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
“I'm sure every American worker is saying, 'Thank God the Republicans are going to have me work 10 more hours before I can get health insurance. Aren't you generous,’” Hoyer added.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul RyanPresident Obama should curb mass incarceration with clemency Senators move to protect 'Dreamers' Cruz, DeSantis to introduce constitutional amendment on term limits MORE (R-Wis.) charged that 39 hours would still be an improvement for average employees than being limited to working 29 hours per week.
“Well, 39 is a lot better than 29. And guess what, the majority of Americans are at 34 hours. Going to 40 puts them above that,” Ryan said.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said Wednesday that the bill would increase the deficit by about $46 billion because it would lower the number of companies liable for penalties and therefore reduce government revenues.
Multiple GOP lawmakers, including McConnell, were quick to dismiss the estimates. They argue businesses are cutting hours to their workers because of the requirement.
“It is wreaking havoc out in society regardless of what the CBO view may be of the impact on the U.S. budget. We know the impact on the family budget and it's not good,” McConnell said Wednesday.
Proponents of ObamaCare, however, have warned the GOP’s effort could backfire and instead cost jobs.
In an op-ed in the Washington Post on Thursday, a former White House economic adviser called the effort “seriously misguided” and predicted it would be blocked by the Senate.
“If I could ask the new Congress to be guided by one principle, it would be this: Do no harm. And yet, in one of their first votes of the year, the House of Representatives will likely pass a bill Thursday that violates that simple request,” wrote Jared Bernstein, who is now a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Industry groups say they are confident about the bill’s chances in the Senate, with one lobbyist citing support from a “handful” of Democratic offices.
Still, one Democratic aide said they would be “surprised” if the bill made it through the Senate, pointing to skepticism among Democrats as well as conservative Republicans who’d still rather repeal ObamaCare in full.
One of the loudest voices in the "repeal" camp, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), said this week he would “absolutely” support the bill. Others, such as Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) have not yet stated their positions.
The GOP is also hoping to give a long-awaited victory to some of the country’s most powerful business groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation and the National Restaurant Association.
“Employees are losing wages and hours of work, and employers are losing the ability to offer jobs and structure their workforce in a way that best serves their business,” Bruce Josten, a lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce, wrote in a letter to the House on Wednesday.