What’s in a word? In this case, the word is “comply.” Also “restore.”
The “PBS NewsHour” did a four-night series of interviews last week on growing economic inequality and the ideas of policymakers for ameliorating it. (The ratio of CEO compensation to that of average workers, currently in the range of 273-to-1, has grown more than 1,000 percent since the middle 1960s.)
I am a big fan of the “NewsHour,” going back many decades, but this series was pretty slow except as one more indication that the two major parties have almost nothing in common on these issues and some conservatives will go to remarkable lengths to avoid discussing their differences honestly. One example of such don’t-know-whether-to-laugh-or-cry dishonesty occurred during the segment in which “NewsHour” anchor Judy Woodruff interviewed Sen. Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina.
Woodruff asked Sen. Scott where he stood on President Obama’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10. His answer came from the other side of the looking glass. It went something (no, exactly) like this:
Sen. Scott: Yes, I would tell the president and my friends on the left that we can have a robust conversation about actually helping those folks at the entry level of the income ladder by having a conversation about restoring the 40-hour workweek that is in Obamacare.
The fact is that, today, employers are making the decision to move their employees from 40 hours a week to 30 hours to week to comply with the ACA. If we were to restore the 40-hour workweek, we would have a — at least the same impact on the same number of people as we would have having a conversation about increasing the minimum wage, without the job losses, without the reduction of hours that comes with a 40 or 50 percent increase in the minimum wage.
Can you follow that? He didn’t say this terribly clearly but Scott’s answer to whether to raise the minimum wage is to, instead, repeal the provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires large employers to provide health insurance as a benefit to all employees who work 30 hours a week or more. Sen. Scott has introduced a bill to repeal that provision, and he believes it would do more to help struggling workers than would raising the minimum wage.
We live in an age of spin, which is a polite word for B.S. The days when a politician could be expected to be rewarded for straight talk — or even to survive an occasional attack of candor — seem to be over. And it’s getting harder to know how far a politician can torture factual accuracy without getting called on it. But let’s put Scott’s words under the microscope for a second.
The ACA is very complicated — too complicated for my taste. But the simpler alternatives were deemed politically unacceptable. Its architects divided uninsured Americans into many categories and devised a separate approach to getting each category insured.
One category is employees of large companies (those with 50 or more full-time employees) that do not provide health insurance as a benefit. The mandate that those employers offer insurance to their workers was a fairly straightforward effort to bring health insurance within the reach of that category of uninsured Americans.
The threshold that separates full-time from part-time employees for this purpose was set at 30 hours a week. You don’t have to be too diabolically clever to figure out how some employers might try to work around this requirement. Cut your workers (or some of them) down to less than 30 hours a week and presto, you don’t have to provide them with any help toward acquiring health insurance.
How many employers will do this to how many of their workers? Apparently quite a few, according to Sen. Scott, whose press release quotes him as saying: ““Obamacare will destroy the 40-hour work week as we know it.”
In it’s most recent comment, the least-biased expert source on such matters, the Congressional Budget Office, wrote:
In CBO’s judgment, there is no compelling evidence that part-time employment has increased as a result of the ACA. On the one hand, there have been anecdotal reports of firms responding to the employer penalty by limiting workers’ hours, and the share of workers in part-time jobs has declined relatively slowly since the end of the recent recession. On the other hand, the share of workers in part-time jobs generally declines slowly after recessions, so whether that share would have declined more quickly during the past few years in the absence of the ACA is difficult to determine. In any event, because the employer penalty will not take effect until 2015, the current lack of direct evidence may not be very informative about the ultimate effects of the ACA.
In the interview, Scott estimated that 2.3 million to 2.5 million workers would be saved, by his bill, from having their hours cut from 40 to 30. I have asked his office where he got that number and they have declined to reply.
Truth is, nobody knows. Scott’s reason for bringing up his 40-hour week amendment was to argue that his bill would do more to reduce inequality than an increase in the minimum wage because, thanks to his bill, 2 million-plus workers will get back the 10-hours pay, per week, that they are about to lose because of Obamacare and, presumably, they need hours more than they need health insurance.
I asked Sen. Scott’s office whether, under his proposal to “restore the 40-hour work week,” employers could withhold health care from even more workers by simply cutting every 40-hour employee to 39 hours? They have not replied.
But as one who is fairly obsessed with political word choices — especially misleading word choices that are chosen for their potential to mislead — I just wanted to call attention to how Scott described the employers who will cut their workers hours.
Employers are making the decision to move their employees from 40 hours a week to 30 hours to week to comply with the ACA.
Really? Is that what they are doing? I would say employers who do this are going to great lengths to subvert the clear intent of the ACA, which, in this matter, is to induce large employers to offer a health insurance benefit to their full-time employees.
I also note Sen. Scott’s fondness for the word “restore” to describe what his proposal would do to the 40-hour work week, which, to me at least, implies that the Obamacare law has abolished the 40-hour work week. I’m pretty sure it didn’t do that.
I’m probably making too big a deal about Sen. Scott’s bill and his word choices. But to be as fair as I could to him, without ignoring his questionable word choices, after I had established contact with his press person, I also wrote to her:
Lastly: Sen. Scott said that employers who reduce workers’ hours from 40 to less than 30 hours would be doing so to “comply” with the Obamacare law. And that his proposal would “restore” the 40-hour workweek. He gives the impression that the ACA eliminates the 40-hour workweek and that this is one of its purposes. Anyone who took that inference would be misled. Employers who wanted to “comply” with the law, would offer a health insurance benefit to full-time workers. Employers who cut an employee’s hours below 30 to avoid the mandate would not be so much “complying” with the law as evading its purpose.
In the piece I have in mind, I would call Sen. Scott’s word choices (particularly “comply” and “restore”) intentionally misleading. I don’t have a specific question about it, but I wanted to give him a chance to respond to the idea that he is consciously and intentionally creating a false impression.”
I’ve waited all week, and sent a couple of follow-ups. Not that Sen. Scott is under any obligation to respond to the impertinent enquiries of an ink-stained wretch in distant Minnesota, but I think it would have been really interesting if he had decided to engage. So far, still no reply
P.S.: Judy Woodruff, whose work I generally admire and who conducted the interview, failed to press Scott any of these matters.