In the wake of the Republicans’ midterm election sweep, there has been a predictable Beltway media push for bipartisan compromise, and an equally predictable push to dress up Republican ideas to screw Americans as reasonable proposals. Already, Democrats are weakening in the face of pressure to pass Keystone, or to allow the new Republican majority to handle Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch’s confirmation, but there’s another proposal that Republicans have been shopping around as a way to “improve” the Affordable Care Act. It’s based on a lie that needs to be called out loudly.
In a post-midterms victory op-ed, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) promoted “a proposal 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.”
That talking point has been echoing around Republican-land since the midterms, and to the untrained ear, it sound innocuous enough. I mean, 40 hours is a full-time job, and “restoring” something means it must have been that way before, so how bad could it be to put it back that way? First, do no harm, and all that. If you’re not paying all that much attention, it sounds like they just want to put things back the way they were before, and reward hard-working Americans somehow.
Republicans have been fairly disciplined at keeping this point vague enough to obscure the proposal’s true intent. Well, all except one. See if you can spot him:
Boehner: Restore the 40-hour work week that was gutted by Obamacare.
McConnell: The loss of the 40-hour work week, big, big mistake, that ought to be restored.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas): Mitigating some of the burdens of the Affordable Care Act, like restoring the 40-hour work week.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.): The first thing I’d want to change is to let you have somebody work in your company at 40 hours without making them a full-time employee.
Like almost all of the Republicans’ 46 fake “jobs” bills, this is just another giveaway to businesses at the expense of workers. Under Obamacare, anyone working 30 hours or more is counted as a full-time employee, which means they count toward the 50 employee threshold for the employer mandate, and they must be provided health insurance by those employers. Under the Republican proposal, no one who works less than 40 hours would qualify as a full-time employee, or qualify for health insurance. The Republicans’ theory is that your boss is screwing you by cutting your hours so they can deny you health insurance, and they’d like to let your boss screw you by denying you health insurance, while still getting forty hours out of you.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the opposite is happening, but never mind that. At 40 hours, employers could kick any employees who took a lunch break off of their insurance, and if enough of them took a lunch break, they’d all lose their insurance.
As dastardly as that is, it just makes Republicans disingenuous, not liars. They’re entitled to think that job creators are horrible people who will screw their best employees out of health insurance, and like it or not, if “full-time” used to mean 40 hours, if that used to be the law, then “restoring” it is at least a conversation, right? Well, unfortunately, there never was such a law. The Department of Labor “does not define full-time employment or part-time employment. This is a matter generally to be determined by the employer.”
Well, okay, so technically, there’s nothing to be restored, but let’s be fair, here. If employers used to consider anyone working less than 40 hours a part-time employee, then Republicans aren’t lying in spirit. But even before the Affordable Care Act, employers offered health insurance to full-and part-time employees, and the cutoff for a full-time employee was never 40 hours. Not even at Papa John’s. The Bureau of Labor Statistics uses 35 hours as their cutoff for statistical purposes, but most employers build in some wiggle room, so they’re not constantly kicking employees off their plans when they dip below 30 or 32 hours in a given week. Many states also use 32 hours as the cutoff for full-time employment with regard to unemployment benefits.
The 40-hour work week isn’t, and never has been, the definition of “full-time” employment, it is the upper limit of it. After that, the employee is working overtime, and must be paid time-and-a-half. Maybe people should be asking Republicans how they feel about that.