Arkansas's members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted on Thursday to remove a requirement that employers with over 100 employees (50 next year) have to offer health insurance to those working more than 30 hours a week or face a penalty. The legislation would set the new standard at 40 hours a week.
The previous class of the House passed a similar measure but this year, with the Senate in Republican hands, the legislation could head to the President's desk for the first time.
U.S. Representative Bruce Westerman spoke with KUAR's Jacob Kauffman about the legislation, which passed the House 252-172.
KAUFFMAN: I’m joined on the line by the newly sworn-in U.S. Representative for Arkansas’s 4th District, which includes towns like Texarkana, El Dorado, Hot Springs, and Pine Bluff. Congressman Bruce Westerman is speaking to us from Washington, thanks for your time.
WESTERMAN: Thanks Jacob, it’s good to be on the show with you today. Now, we can’t forget those towns up in the northern part of the district like Clarksville, and Huntsville, and Charleston, it’s a very large district.
KAUFFMAN: It surely is. The House voted this week on a change to the Affordable Care Act, one of many Republicans hope to implement with this new Congress, and now the party has a majority in both chambers. Currently, the Affordable Care Act requires employers with more than 100 workers to offer insurance to those working more than 30 hours a week. Congressman, you’ve voted to move that threshold up to 40 hours a week. Why do you support that change?
WESTERMAN: Well, on a multitude of reasons I support making the standard work week 40 hours versus 30 hours and just restoring the work week back to its traditional 40 hour week. The existing 30 hour week has impact several groups somewhat disproportionately. There’s about 2.6 million people who earn $30,000 or less per year and they’re at risk of losing work hours under the current 30 hour week. Also the data shows, and this came from the Ways and Means Committee in the113th Congress, that 63 percent of women will be impacted under the current law and 89 percent of those without a college degree will be impacted. So, this is a bill that allows for one thing, companies to expand to do business, and it also allows workers to make more money. All workers need as much income as they can get in today’s economy and going from 30 hours to 40 hours per week is a significant boost for family income.
KAUFFMAN: The Congressional Budget Office estimates nearly a million people will lose employer-based health care, and end up on government-sponsored insurance. The CBO also projects about half-a-million people will simply lose their insurance altogether and the deficit could grow by over $50 billion in 10 years if these changes are made. Are you worried about any of those projections or repercussions?
WESTERMAN: I think you’re referencing aCBO report before we incorporated dynamic scoring into it. That same report also says that it will lower taxes by $63 billion per year and that’s going to help businesses to hire more people, work more hours, and generate a stronger economy. I think any way you slice it, allowing workers to go from 30 hours to 40 hours per week without penalizing the employers on that is going to be good for the economy.
KAUFFMAN: This is something that certainly something that seems to have the potential for some limited bipartisan support in both chambers. The President has indicated he might veto it. How do you feel, can you gage the support, are there enough votes not just to pass the House, but to override a veto?
WESTERMAN: We will have to see when and if it gets vetoed. We were talking about that CBO report. It also showed it would generate $75 billion in higher wages to workers so you’re going to get more tax revenue off of that. It’s definitely going to be a benefit to the economy. When I think about the President’s threat to veto this actually makes me wonder if he wants to stand with Arkansas workers or if he just wants to protect his legacy.
KAUFFMAN: And speaking more broadly, ultimately, do you as a Congressman contend that employers, even these large one’s that have a few hundred employees, that they don’t have that obligation to provide insurance to their part-time workers? Are you worried that instead of the company providing insurance, these part-time workers end up being on welfare rolls and tax payers end up supporting them instead of these larger companies?
WESTERMAN: I think as people have more income they’ll be able to participate in employer-insurance programs. I think it should be up to the employers on what kind of benefits they offer and if they don’t offer benefits as good as the next guy down the road then guess what, they’re going to have a hard time keeping their employees. Attempts at repeals and revisions of the Affordable Care Act are certainly nothing new but the make-up of both the House and Senate are, newly-sworn in Republican U.S. Representative Bruce Westerman thanks for telling us a little bit about what’s going on in Washington as the 114th Congress begins.
WESTERMAN: Thank you Jacob, I enjoyed the opportunity and look forward to our next visit.