The people have voted--and placed Republicans in control of both the Senate and the House for the first time in eight years. But despite all the campaign-trail bluster about repealing Obamacare, Republicans in Congress know they don't have the votes to stand up to a Presidential veto and kill the health care law outright. That doesn't mean they won't try anyway--just for show--before moving on to the more achievable goal of knocking down unpopular provisions of the law in a piecemeal fashion.
This could be good for business, particularly if Congress takes on the employer mandate provision of the law. The House Republicans don't hold enough votes to block a Democratic filibuster and force a vote on an outright repeal. But new Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has said he would use the so-called budget reconciliation process, which requires only 51 votes, to push through measures that chip away at things like the medical device tax and the employer mandate.
Although the president would surely veto any repeal of the Affordable Care Act's individual or employer mandate, he might sign off on changes to the law's definition of full-time workers, for example, especially if congressional Democrats get behind a bill like the Save American Workers Act (H.R. 2575), which passed the House by a 248-179 vote last year. This Act would amend the IRS code to change the definition of full-time workers (who must be offered health coverage) to mean employees who work 40 hours a week or more; the ACA currently defines full-time work as 30-plus hours per week.
A number of large employers, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have argued that the 30-hour rule encourages them to cut employee hours and restricts business growth. An analysis by the conservative American Action Forum found that changing the definition to 40 hours would protect 11.8 million workers who work more than 30 hours a week from having their hours cut. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, however, warns that the bill would reduce the number of Americans who receive employer-based health insurance by one million, shift coverage costs to taxpayers rather than employers, and increase federal budget deficits by nearly $74 million over the next 10 years.
"Changing the hour threshold for part-time workers is probably the most likely target" for newly empowered Republicans looking to hack away the ACA, says Larry Levitt, a health policy analyst at the Kaiser Family Foundation. And chances are that Republicans won't waste much time in taking a shot at it come January.