Democrats Don't Want to Ruin Their Killer Obamacare Week with an Employer Mandate Compromise

The GOP picked a bad week to try to pass bipartisan Obamacare reforms. 

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The GOP picked a bad week to try to pass bipartisan Obamacare reforms. Republicans, and some Democrats, want to change the definition of a full-time worker under Obamacare to make things easier (cheaper) for employers. The Save American Workers Act passed the House on Thursday with support from 230 Republicans and 18 Democrats, and would raise the number of hours the qualify as a full-time worker under Obamacare from 30 to 40 hours a week, according to The Wall Street Journal. But while a similar bill has two Democratic sponsors in the Senate, it's not likely to be voted on soon. Changing the definition of a full-time worker would push 1 million people off of insurance, raise the deficit (due to fewer employers paying penalties) and, most importantly (to political strategists), take attention away from the very good week Democrats have been having.

The Congressional Budget Office said the bill would "reduce the amount of penalties collected from employers," which would raise the deficit by $73.7 billion over the next decade. It would push one million people out of employer-sponsored coverage, add 500,000 to 1 million to private plans or Medicaid and would increase the number of uninsured people by less than half a million.

That's the policy end of it, and the most compelling argument for people who aren't politicians. The less compelling political argument for Democrats is that it would mean drawing attention to a future problem — the employer mandate penalties starting next year — at the expense of this week's enrollment news. This week reports also found that 5.4 million uninsured people gained insurance through Obamacare's private plans and the Medicaid expansion (one criticism has been that the health care law didn't insure actual uninsured individuals). When the employer mandate penalties start kicking in that will be another political hurdle for Democrats, but one that they don't need to cross until after the midterm elections.

And even then, there are plenty of Democrats and Republicans who think the employer mandate has already been de facto repealed by the Obama administration. In July 2013, the administration delayed employer mandate penalties till January 2015. In February, it delayed penalties for medium-sized businesses. Employers with 50 to 99 employees now have until January 2016 to offer insurance to full-time workers. Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday that the mandate is not long for this world, according to The Hill. "It’s a small part of the law. I think it will be one of the first things to go," he said. The administration quickly denied that, but even Hillary Clinton has said she's worried about employers "moving people from full-time work to part-time work." Business interest groups are happy to hear the doubt on the left and say it is hard to argue for the importance of the employer mandate when it's been delayed twice.

All of that, of course, is just one more reason motivating the Senate not call a vote on the full-time worker bill. If delays to the employer mandate are threatening the penalty, that's not Congress's problem, it's the president's. Congress has its own approval ratings to worry about.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.