WASHINGTON -- One of the House Republican leadership's first bills of the new Congress will add some $53 billion to the deficit and cost hundreds of thousands of Americans health insurance, according to a new report by Congress' non-partisan budget office.
The bill, the Save American Workers Act, aims to redefine the number of hours that people work each week before their employers fall under the Affordable Care Act, raising the threshold from 30 hours to 40. Under current law, larger firms that don't provide health insurance for people who work more than 30 hours will be fined. The bill would raise the fine threshold to 40 hours.
Republicans argue that by requiring companies to provide health benefits to anyone who works more than 30 hours, the Affordable Care Act creates an incentive for employers to cut hours to less than 30. Analysts say there is no evidence of that alleged trend, however, and a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds that involuntary part-time work has actually fallen since the peak of the recession and the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010.
The Congressional Budget Office "score" of the bill released Wednesday suggested the shift proposed by the bill could actually worsen the healthcare situation, even as it raises costs to taxpayers.
According to the analysis, about 1 million workers would lose their employer-based health care coverage because businesses would have even more incentive to cut hours than they do now. That's because vastly more Americans work 40 or more hours a week than those who work just over 30.
"Because many more workers work 40 hours per week (or slightly more) than work 30 hours per week (or slightly more), [the bill] could lead employers to make changes that would affect many more workers than will be affected under current law," CBO says.
Since the employers would pay less in fines under the new bill, it would cost about $31.8 billion worth of revenue over 10 years, the CBO says.
And with some million workers losing employer health insurance, they and their families would have to turn to Medicaid, the subsidized health care exchanges, and the Children's Health Insurance Program. That would end up costing taxpayers about $21.4 billion over the next decade.
On top of those effects, about 500,000 people would lose health insurance altogether, the CBO says.
Informed that there was no evidence that the mandate for employers to provide health insurance was causing a shift to a "part-time economy," and that the bill itself would create such a problem, the lead sponsor of the bill, Rep. Todd Young (R-Ind.), said he knew better from anecdotal evidence in his own district, and insisted the bill was necessary.
"We all acknowledge this is a problem," Young said Wednesday at a meeting of the House Rules Committee, which was drafting the procedures under which the bill will be considered on the House floor Thursday.
He argued that since the employer mandate had been delayed until this year, it was too soon to see evidence for his position.
"The employer mandate wasn’t fully implanted until Jan. 1, so perhaps that’s why robust evidence hasn’t been collected," he told Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), the top Democrat on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, who had raised the issues.
"You string together enough anecdotes, and you start to observe a pattern," Young insisted.
Levin was not impressed with his reasoning, however; he cited the CBO report, the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and called the name of the act "1984-ish" in that it purports to save workers when it actually harms them.
"If you move the requirement from 30 house to 40 hours, what you're doing is creating an incentive for more people to be shifted to part-time work," Levin said. "You're hurting workers, you're creating more part-time employment and you're increasing the deficit. That's a double or triple whammy."
The bill does have some Democratic support, and is likely to pass the House. It faces a tougher battle in the U.S. Senate. But if it does pass Congress, President Barack Obama has promised to veto the measure.
Similar to Young, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he was not worried about the CBO findings about the deficit implications or the negative impact on full-time workers, suggesting he also knew better than the numbers crunchers' data.
Asked at his Capitol Hill news briefing Wednesday if the information gave him pause, he offered an unequivocal "No."
"One of the worst things we can do is destroy the 40-hour work week, which has been a part of American culture and life for a very long time," McConnell said, despite the findings that many more 40-hour workers would be hurt by shifting the threshold.
He also insisted the 30-hour threshold had to be ditched, regardless of the deficit cost.
"It is wreaking havoc out in society regardless of what the congressional budget view may be of the impact on the U.S. budget," McConnell said. "We know the impact on family budgets, and it’s not good. So I think there’s almost no chance we won’t be voting on that at some point."
This story was updated to include comments from McConnell.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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