In the run-up to last year’s midterm elections, President Obama did what he could to convince everyone that the economy, after years of post-recession fits and starts, was finally putting together a decent recovery. “For all the work that remains, for all the citizens that we still need to reach, what I want people to know is that there are some really good things happening in America,” Obama said in a speech last October. “Across the board, the trend lines have moved in the right direction.”
Republicans, of course, were having none of it. They’d been hammering away for years at the “disastrous Obama economy,” and with control of the Senate tantalizingly within their grasp, they weren’t about to cede any ground to the president on their most potent campaign message. “The president can talk about an improving economy, but try telling that to those Americans who are suffering so much in the Obama economy,” Mitch McConnell said in response to the president’s remarks. “Congress needs to pass legislation that helps create jobs instead of smothering economic opportunity.”
The election came and went and McConnell’s side did much better than Obama’s, but it turns out that the president was on to something. In the months following the midterms, there’s been a glut of data showing that the economy did indeed pick up steam in the latter half of last year – strong monthly jobs reports, a falling jobless rate, and a five percent annualized growth rate for the third quarter of 2014.
How does one explain all this good economic news? Well, there are many complex factors at play, but Mitch McConnell boiled it down to one simple reason: people were getting HYPED over the prospect of McConnell and his buddies taking over all of Congress and passing a bunch of bad economic legislation that the president would veto.
Here’s McConnell speaking on the Senate floor earlier this week:
“After so many years of sluggish growth, we’re finally starting to see some economic data that can provide a glimmer of hope,” McConnell said. “The uptick appears to coincide with the biggest political change of the Obama Administration’s long tenure in Washington: the expectation of a new Republican Congress.”
Well how about that? Last October the economy was causing widespread “suffering,” and now, in hindsight, what we were actually seeing was Republican-inspired glimmers of hope. Easy to confuse the two, I suppose.
But let’s be generous and grant McConnell his silly spin that the economy perked up in anticipation of an all-GOP Congress. So what are the Republicans – vessels of this newfound economic optimism – planning to do as their first order of business? Economic sabotage.
It comes in the form of a bill to alter the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate, which states that businesses with 50 or more full-time employees will have to provide some form of health coverage. As written, the law defines a full-time employee as someone who logs more than 30 hours a week. The GOP wants to change this to 40 hours per week, claiming that they’re protecting the interests of workers. “Because the law defines ‘full time’ as 30 hours or more,” Paul Ryan wrote in USA Today, “employers are keeping employees below that threshold to avoid the mandate entirely.”
They actually have it precisely backwards – the threshold was set at 30 hours to protect workers from employers who would cut their hours to dodge the coverage mandate. “The reason that the architects of Obamacare set the definition of full-time work at 30 hours in the first place was to minimize the disruption to the labor market,” explains MSNBC’s Suzy Khimm. “Far more employees work close to 40 hours a week than 30 hours a week, so if the threshold were raised, more employers could be tempted to reduce hours to avoid complying with the mandate.”
And not only would the bill screw a bunch of workers out of their full complement of working hours, it would also screw them out of health insurance. The Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation conducted an analysis of the Republican bill to amend the employer mandate and found that 1 million people would lose their health coverage if the legislation were to pass. “The report projected that more than 500,000 of them would end up getting coverage through Medicaid, the Children's Health Care Program or the Obamacare exchanges,” writes TPM’s Sahil Kapur. “The rest, CBO and JCT said, would become uninsured.”
And on top of all that, the bill would add $53 billion to the deficit once you factor in all the lost fees and penalties that would have been collected and the fact that it will impel more people to sign up for Medicaid and other public health insurance programs.
So the cumulative effect of this bill is to 1) screw over workers, 2) increase the deficit, and 3) drive more people into government-funded programs. None of those things align with the GOP’s stated policy goals, but the party is gripped by a lizard-brained compulsion to take a chunk out of Obamacare, and so McConnell’s moving forward with the legislation, heedless of the impact it will have.