National Beat Reporter
The 114th United States Congress convened for the first time on Jan. 3, 2015, featuring a brand new Republican majority in both the House and the Senate. The new Congress will convene from now until Jan. 3, 2017, essentially the final two years of President Obama’s second term in office.
The 2014 midterm elections were historic for many reasons: Republicans have gained their largest majority in the entire country since the late 1920s (54 Senate seats, 247 House seats, 31 governorships, and 68 state legislative chambers), total spending reached $3.7 billion resulting in the most expensive midterm election in U.S. history, and voter turnout reached a historic low as only 36.4% of all eligible voters went to the polls, the lowest voter turnout since 1942, when the United States was still fighting World War II.
On the top of the GOP’s agenda for 2015 appears to be deciding on how to scale back the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” Republican leaders are facing pressure from grassroots groups to reverse the law (either parts of it or in its entirety), while also facing added pressure to demonstrate that it can govern productively in preparation for a 2016 White House bid. While hard-line Republicans approve of repealing the law entirely, House Republicans are merely taking steps to change parts of the ACA.
Focusing on a part of the law that requires employers to provide health insurance to all full-time workers, the House passed a bill to change the ACA’s definition of full-time work on Thursday, Jan. 8th. Currently, the ACA defines full-time work as 30 hours a week, but the bill would raise that definition to 40 hours. Conservatives argue that a low definition of full-time work would lead to reduced workers’ hours because employers would have an incentive to reduce work hours to under 30 in order to avoid providing coverage or paying a fine. According to Republicans, raising full-time work to 40 hours a week would allow employers to maintain hours near full-time, up to 39 hours, and avoid having to pay for health insurance for their employees. They argue that their bill is a response to employers’ desires for less government involvement in how a business handles its workforce.
Opponents of the bill argue that it would make it easier for employers to avoid having to pay for health insurance for full-time workers simply by lowering their hours by one hour below a 40-hour threshold, whereas reducing a worker’s hours to 29 hours is much more difficult.
Ultimately, the bill mostly affects low-wage hourly workers in the retail and restaurant sectors. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would increase the deficit by $53 billion over the next ten years because the government would have to provide health insurance to those who become eligible for Medicaid and other government benefits after losing their employer-provided health insurance.
The bill is likely to see a vote in the Senate, but President Obama has threatened to veto the bill should it reach his desk.