Tuesday, March 11, 2014
WASHINGTON - Sen. Susan Collins of Maine used the Republicans' weekly address Saturday to continue her party's attacks on Obamacare, predicting a provision of the law will prompt many employers nationwide to slash workers' hours.
Collins targeted language in President Obama's health care reform law defining a full-time workweek as 30 hours. Beginning in 2015, businesses with 50 or more employees will be required to offer health insurance to all full-time employees or else face a financial penalty.
Collins, who voted against the Affordable Care Act, said she has already heard about employers in Maine planning to reduce employees' hours to less than 30 hours a week in order to avoid the insurance requirement.
"Under this troubling trend, more workers will find their hours and their earnings reduced," Collins said during the nearly six-minute address. "Jobs will be lost. This is especially disturbing as our country is still battling high unemployment."
Instead, Collins used the spot to promote a bill she introduced with Indiana Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly that would define the workweek in Obamacare as 40 hours per week.
"A 40-hour workweek is full-time; we all know that," Collins said. "This bill is just common sense."
The Affordable Care Act passed Congress in 2010 without a single Republican vote in either chamber. Republicans have kept up the criticism of the bill in the three years since, with the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voting for the 40th time this past week to repeal the law.
Democrats have attacked Republicans for their continued opposition to a law that supporters insist will provide health coverage to more of the uninsured and has already ended unscrupulous practices by insurance companies.
With the Senate in Democratic hands -- and the U.S. Supreme Court affirming key aspects of the law -- Obamacare is slowly moving toward implementation. However, the Obama administration recently announced that it would delay until 2015 requiring businesses with 50 or more employees to offer health insurance.
COLLINS SPARS WITH GOP LEADER
Collins may have carried the Republican message to a national audience Saturday. But earlier in the week, she had a Senate floor showdown with her party's Senate leader -- and walked away more than a little displeased.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., used his considerable leverage (arm twisting, promised favors, etc.) to block consideration of a $54 billion transportation and housing bill co-written by Collins, the top Republican on the subcommittee that crafted the spending bill.
The incident underscored the power that party leaders wield in the Capitol over their members. Although an influential voice within the Senate, Collins couldn't match McConnell as he flipped vote after vote on a bipartisan appropriations bill that he argued (publicly, at least) violated a 2011 agreement on controlling spending.
In the end, five Republicans who had supported the bill in committee voted with McConnell, along with 18 Republicans who had voted earlier to consider the bill on the floor. Collins was the only Republican to support the bill on the floor. And the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development bill fell flat with a THUD.
Collins told reporters that she had never seen McConnell work so hard against a member of his own party, while her spokesman offered this candid glimpse at intra-party politics:
"During the past two weeks, the Republican Leader made voting against this bill a test of party loyalty, and he succeeded in peeling off senators who had already supported the bill," said Collins' spokesman, Kevin Kelley, in an email. "When it became evident that Senator Collins no longer had the votes to prevail, she told her colleagues to feel free to vote against the bill in order to avoid the Republican leader's ire."
In years past, THUD bills won easy, bipartisan support from lawmakers hungry for money to fix crumbling roads and deteriorating bridges in their home states.
Speculation abounds about why McConnell wanted to stymie the bill, at least among those who don't believe his budget-related explanations.
The Senate bill was $10 billion larger than a House version that Republican leaders in that chamber pulled from the floor because it lacked the votes to pass. Some suggest it was an attempt to delay work on budget issues until later this fall, when the much bigger debate over the debt ceiling -- and a potential government shutdown -- takes place. Others speculated that McConnell was trying to show some political muscle headed into the August recess and into his own re-election campaign next year.
KING SPEAKS BLUNTLY
Maine Sen. Angus King apparently had some blunt words on the issue of overseas manufacturers.
Speaking before the premiere of a documentary called "American Made Movie," King reportedly said it was "bullshit" that products manufactured in countries with weak environmental and labor regulations could be sold in the United States before raising their standards, according a report by ABC News.
King then went on to say that he would like to see "measurable goals before they get access to our markets," given the economic importance of U.S. markets to exporters.
The documentary features a segment on New Balance, the Massachusetts-based footwear manufacturer that employs about 900 people at three facilities in Maine. Earlier last week, King and Maine Rep. Mike Michaud accompanied the Obama administration's top trade official, Michael Froman, on a tour of New Balance's Norridgewock factory.
The visit was set up to allow Froman to hear directly from New Balance employees who are concerned that the United States will eliminate tariffs -- or import taxes -- on sneakers made in Vietnam as part of a free-trade agreement under negotiation.
King apparently used less-salty language in that public meeting with Froman, however.
CONGRESS TAKES A BREAK FROM ... WORK?
Finally, as Congress heads home for a five-week recess, here's a little factoid to mull over.
In the roughly seven months since the 113th Congress was sworn in, lawmakers have passed and sent to President Obama a total of 26 bills, according to the Library of Congress' bill-tracking service. Some longtime observers have said that could put this Congress on track to be the least productive ever.
Two of those 26 bills were crafted by members of Maine's delegation. King was a key negotiator on the student loan interest rate bill that passed the House last week, while Collins was co-author of the bill exempting air traffic controllers from budget-cutting furlough days.
Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at: