The Republican majority in the just-seated Congress is following through on its promise to try to weaken the health care law.
The House passed a bill to change the law's requirement that companies offer affordable insurance to all employees who work an average 30 or more hours a week; the bill would lift that requirement to 40 hours, effectively reducing the number of workers companies must cover. The bill goes next to the Senate, where there are enough Republicans to approve the legislation, but not enough to stop possible delaying tactics by Democrats who want to keep the health care law intact. And the White House warned last week that even if the bill makes it through Congress, President Barack Obama will veto it.
Small businesses have a stake in what happens to the bill. The health law requires companies with 100 or more employees to offer insurance to employees and their dependents. The law also calls for part-timers' hours to be combined and for those employees to be considered what's called a full-time equivalent. Full-time equivalents count toward the 100-worker threshold.
Starting next year, companies with 50 or more workers will be required to offer insurance. Businesses with 49 or fewer employees are exempt from the requirement.
Some small business advocacy groups oppose the 30-hour rule, saying it burdens small companies like independent retailers and restaurants financially and also administratively, as the law requires employers to keep records and report their workers' hours to the government. But one group, Small Business Majority, says only about 4 percent of all companies will be required to offer insurance under the law.
The House also approved construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a $5.4 billion project designed to carry oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries. Like the health care bill, the pipeline faces opposition from Democrats and Obama.
Some small business groups are in favor of the project because small companies would likely get some of the contracts to build the pipeline. The project's opponents say it poses risks to the environment because of the possibility of an oil spill.
Small businesses were hot commodities in 2014, with sales of businesses reaching record levels.
A survey of brokers by BizBuySell.com, an online marketplace for small businesses, counted 7,494 business sales last year, the most since the company began keeping records in 2007. That was up over 6 percent from the previous record of 7,056 in 2013. Sales of small businesses began surging in 2013's first quarter with the economy looking better and many baby boomer owners deciding it was a good time to put their companies on the market.
Sellers are getting more money for their companies; the median sales price in 2014 rose to $185,000 from $180,000.
The sales trend is expected to continue in 2015. Nearly 80 percent of brokers predicted that a larger number of baby boomers would be selling their companies this year than in 2014.