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By Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times (MCT)

The GOP manifesto published by the Wall Street Journal last week over the names of Republican leaders John Boehner (R-OH) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) included a tweak to the Affordable Care Act they say would provide Americans with “more hours and better pay.”

Don’t believe it.

Their proposed change would threaten the livelihoods of as many as 81 million workers. It would have precisely the opposite effect they claim. The bottom line is that it would be a handout to cheeseparing employers, not a gain for their workers. If the two GOP leaders really want to fix Obamacare, the Supreme Court last week gave them a path to do so.

And their rationale is specious, too. Boehner and McConnell say their overall plan involves “renewing our commitment to repeal Obamacare, which is hurting the job market along with Americans’ healthcare.” Their focus is on raising the definition of full-time work in the Affordable Care Act from 30 hours to 40.

Because employees working less than 30 hours don’t have to be covered by health insurance under the act, Boehner and McConnell say that restoring the “traditional” definition of full-time employment would remove an “arbitrary and destructive government barrier” to full-time job creation.

This idea is based on the notion that employers are gaming the part-time rule to escape their health coverage obligations. Paul Van de Water of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities raises a couple of pertinent points about this.

First, there’s nothing to say that employers inclined to cut their workers’ hours to evade the act wouldn’t do the same whether the employees work 30 hours or 40. And here’s the key: There are a lot more of the latter than the former.

In 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 10.2 million workers notching 30 to 34 hours a week, or 7.4 percent of the workforce; that’s the class most vulnerable to having their work hours shaved to become ineligible for coverage.

But 60.9 million Americans worked exactly 40 hours — 43.8 percent of all workers. It wouldn’t take much to cut many of them to 39 hours or below, removing them from the jurisdiction of the Affordable Care Act. People already working 30 to 39 hours a week — about 20 million more — would still be excluded from coverage.

Not all those workers would be vulnerable. Most people working 40 hours or more already get health coverage from their employer, but about 9 percent don’t, according to a study by the Commonwealth Fund. The study finds that raising the full-time threshold to 40 hours would more than double the number of workers at risk of a reduction in hours.

What makes the rationale of Boehner and McConnell specious is that the idea that Obamacare has triggered a rise in part-time work is nothing but a cherished myth of anti-Obamacare conservatives. Month after month, the myth is disproved — most recently by the employment report released Friday.

That report showed that workers employed part time for “economic reasons” — at their employers’ choice, not their own — fell again in October, to 7.03 million on a seasonally adjusted basis, down an additional 76,000 from the month before. The figure now is lower than it’s been at any time since October 2008.

Is there an Obamacare effect? The figures simply don’t show it. Anti-Obamacare dead-enders such as Charles Koch and Mortimer Zuckerman made much of the spike in part-timers last June; as we and others explained, that had nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act but reflected the usual flood of students taking summer jobs.

If Boehner and McConnell really want to do the right thing by American voters, the Supreme Court last week gave them an opening by accepting the infamous King/Halbig issue for review. These are the cases that questioned whether Americans who get their coverage through the federal insurance exchange, rather than state exchanges, are entitled to federal premium subsidies. Most experts, including the legislators who drafted the ACA, say they are, but a clutch of conservative opponents have relied on an ambiguous phrase in the law to say those 7 million Americans should be denied premium assistance.

Now that the GOP controls the House and the Senate, the outlines of a deal to make the Supreme Court case moot are easy to find. The GOP dearly wants to eliminate the ACA’s medical device tax and its employer mandate. Neither change would fundamentally harm the ACA’s ability to bring affordable insurance to the uninsured masses, and both are favored by many Democrats. So give them to the Republicans — in return for a legislative fix to the subsidy language. President Obama won’t sign anything that undermines the ACA, but here’s betting that this is a deal he’d make.

But by trying to tweak the full-time definition, Boehner and McConnell are heading back in the direction of obstructionism. They’re using nonexistent statistics to justify a change in policy that will hurt scores of millions of Americans.

Michael Hiltzik is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Readers may send him email at

AFP Photo/Alex Wong

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White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was forced to defend President Donald Trump's recent attacks on MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on Tuesday, an unenviable task she nevertheless intentionally signed up for. She desperately tried to divert the attention back to Scarborough — without engaging in the president's conspiracy theorizing — but offered no credible defense of the president's conduct.

Trump has been spreading the debunked theory that Scarborough killed a staffer in 2001 while he was in Congress, even though it was determined she died of natural causes. The staffer's widower wrote a released a letter on Tuesday pleading with Twitter to take down the president's offensive tweets promoting the thoery. He said he was "angry," "frustrated," and "grieved" by the president's promotion of the harmful allegations. Trump is perverting his late wife's memory, he said, and he fears her niece and nephews will encounter these attacks.When asked about the letter, McEnany said she wasn't sure if the president had seen it. But she said their "hearts" are with the woman's family "at this time." It was a deeply ironic comment because the only particularly traumatizing thing about "this time" for the family is the president's attacks, which come nearly two decades after the woman's death.

McEnany refused to offer any explanation of Trump's comments and instead redirected reporters to a clip of Scarborough on Don Imus's radio show in 2003. In that show, Imus made a tasteless joke obliquely referring to the death, and Scarborough laughed at it briefly.

"Why is the president making these unfounded allegations?" asked ABC News' Jonathan Karl. "I mean, this is pretty nuts, isn't it? The president is accusing someone of possible murder. The family is pleading with the president to please stop unfounded conspiracy theories. Why is he doing it?""The president said this morning, this is not an original Trump thought. And it is not," she said, bringing up the Imus clip. But she made no mention of why the president is bringing up the issue 17 years later and with a much larger platform.

When pressed further on the president's conduct, she again diverted blame to Scarborough, saying his morning show unfairly criticizes the president. But again, she offered no substantive defense of Trump.

After McEnany had moved on, PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor brought it up again: "Why won't the president give this widower peace and stop tweeting about the conspiracy theory involving his wife?"

McEnany said she had already answered the question, which she hadn't, and said the onus is on Scarborough to explain the Imus clip."The widower is talking specifically about the president!" Alcindor shot back. But McEnany called on Chanel Rion, with the aggressively pro-Trump outlet OAN, who changed the subject to conspiracy theories about the origins of the Russia investigation.

"Are you not going to answer that?" Alcindor called out, still trying to get a substantive response to her question, but Rion spoke over her.

At the end of the briefing, another reporter asked whether Trump was looking for any actual law enforcement steps be taken in response to his conspiracy theory. But McEnany had nothing to add, and simply told people to listen to the Imus clip again. As she hurried out of the briefing room, a reporter asked if Trump would stop promoting the theory — but she left without answering.

Watch the exchange about Klausutis, which begins at 48:45.