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For Immediate Release
Contact: James Wegmann (202) 225-4436

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to Stutzman: Impact of ObamaCare Delay “Beyond My Pay Grade”

As House prepares to delay ObamaCare mandates, Fed Chairman acknowledges law’s impact on employment.

Video of the Congressman’s exchange with Chairman Bernanke is available here.
 
Washington, D.C. – Ahead of today’s vote in the House to delay the implementation of ObamaCare’s employer and individual mandates, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told U.S. Congressman Marlin Stutzman during a House Financial Services Committee hearing today that the dramatic increase of part-time workers due to ObamaCare does have an effect on the Fed’s employment mandate but declined to comment on delaying implementation of the law.
 
A partial transcript of the exchange is below.
 
Congressman Stutzman: I want to talk a little bit about employment. For the entire U.S. work force, employers have added far more part-time employees in 2013, averaging 93,000 a month, seasonally adjusted, than full-time workers, which have averaged 22,000. Last year the reverse was true with employers adding 31,000 part-time workers monthly compared with 171,000 full-time ones. Earlier in June, I along with other colleagues from Indiana wrote HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to figure out whether or not they had forecasted the impact of the Affordable Care Act on part-time workers who are currently just above the 30-hour threshold. Does this shift of a lot of workers, many workers, from the full-time category to part-time status at all affect your statutory mandate to reach full employment?
 
Chairman Bernanke: I think it does. As I mentioned in my testimony, there are a number of problems with labor market. Unemployment is one problem but long-term employment and under-employment, either people working fewer hours than they would like or possibly working at jobs well below their skill level, is also indicative of a weak labor market. A stronger economy will help out all those dimensions. So yes, that's part of our concern. As we look at, you know, unemployment rate and try to determine what it means for the labor market, we look at these other indicators as well.
 
Stutzman: Do you believe that the Affordable Care Act is dragging the economy or slowing the economy down at all with the transition that we're currently going through and the effort of implementation?
 
BernankeIt's very hard to make any judgment. You asked about the part-time—I mean, one thing that we hear, you know, in the commentary we get at the FOMC is that some employers are hiring part-time in order to avoid the mandate there. So we have heard that. But on the other hand, a couple of observations: one is that the very high level of part-time employment has been around since the beginning of the recovery. We don't fully understand it. Secondly, those data come from the household survey, and they're a little inconsistent with some of the data from the firm survey, which suggests that workweeks haven't really declined very much. So I would say at this point that we're withholding judgment on that question.
 
Stutzman: Do you think that a delay in the mandates would be appropriate?
 
Bernanke: It has to—this is beyond my pay grade. This would be—depend on questions of how well and how much time is needed to fully implement the bill.
 
Background:
  • In June, following reports of major cutbacks to workers’ hours across Indiana, Congressman Stutzman led members of Indiana’s congressional delegation in sending a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, highlighting the Affordable Care Act’s severe impact. The letter is available here.
     
  • Today, the House of Representatives will vote on legislation to delay ObamaCare’s employer and individual mandates for a year.