A Tea Party member reaches for a pamphlet titled "The Impact of Obamacare", at a "Food for Free Minds Tea Party Rally" in Littleton, New Hampshire in this October 27, 2012.
Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters

Republicans plow forward with misguided ACA ‘fix’

It’s actually difficult to put together a health care bill that adds to the deficit and reduces coverage at the same time. Usually policies do one or the other.
Congressional Republicans, however, are unusually bad at crafting sensible proposals in this area. It’s comparable to someone going on a diet and going out of their way to find foods that have too many calories and taste terrible.
In this case, the issue is an Affordable Care Act provision that requires many employers to provide health care coverage to full-time employees – and the law defines “full time” as those working 30 hours a week or more. Republicans desperately want to move that threshold to 40 hours a week, and yesterday, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office sketched out what would happen if GOP lawmakers got their way.
A bipartisan measure changing ObamaCare’s definition of full-time work would raise the deficit by $53.2 billion over 10 years and move up to 1 million people into government sponsored health insurance, congressional budget analysts said Wednesday.
The projection from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) poses a messaging challenge to Republican supporters of the measure who are using it as their first attack on the healthcare law this Congress…. The number of uninsured would also increase by less than 500,000, the CBO said.
Well, it might cause a messaging challenge if Republican lawmakers cared even the slightest bit about substantive policy analyses. [Update 4:33 p.m.: The bill passed the House this afternoon, 252-172. Literally zero Republicans voted against it.]
Remember, GOP lawmakers were told yesterday that their proposal would cut off insurance for hundreds of thousands of Americans, while costing taxpayers more money. They were also told the day before that President Obama will, without question, veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.
Confronted with that reality, House Republicans are proceeding anyway, not because it’s a good bill – even conservative media doesn’t see the point – but because GOP lawmakers consider their bad bill ideologically satisfying.
Indeed, just two days after the 2014 midterm elections, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sketched out their top priorities for this Congress, and this awful idea was near the top of their list.
The House will vote on it today, and the Republican-led Senate has vowed to act soon after. They know it can’t become law; they know it would increase the uninsured rate; and they know it would add to the deficit they sometimes pretend to care about; but they’re doing it anyway.
For GOP lawmakers, legislative priorities aren’t about public policy; they’re about scratching an ideological itch. Republicans won’t actually do anything with this little gambit, except feel better about themselves.
Matt Yglesias had a good piece on the bill yesterday, noting that Republicans have hit upon a cure that’s “worse than the disease.”
Their proposal, as outlined by John Boehner and Mitch McConnell in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, is to “restore the traditional 40-hour definition of full-time employment, removing an arbitrary and destructive government barrier to more hours and better pay created by the Affordable Care Act of 2010.”
Except it turns out that the authors of the ACA weren’t idiots. As Yuval Levin explained in a recent National Review item, the 30 hour threshold was established “in part to limit the degree to which employers cut worker hours by putting the cut-off well below the number of hours that most workers put in.” Sherry Glied and Claudia Solis-Rosman have shown that while working slightly more than 40 hours is common, working slightly more than 30 hours is rare. In other words, few workers are at risk of having hours slashed from 31 per week to 29, but many could be cut back from 41 to 39.
At a certain level, Obama’s veto threat effectively ends the debate – we know with certainty that the proposal, if it passes Congress, will not become law. But it’s important to understand these developments anyway, if for no other reason because it tells us a great deal about congressional Republicans’ priorities and post-policy approach to governance.