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Opening Republican salvo on Obamacare draws fire on both sides

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The first congressional Republican attempt to weaken Obamacare with legislation boasting Democratic support appeared to be headed for troubled waters on both sides of the partisan aisle on Tuesday, only days before an expected vote.

The bill, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, seeks to reduce the law’s burden on companies by requiring them to offer private health coverage to full-time employees who work 40 hours a week rather than the 30 hours stipulated by President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

A House vote is expected Thursday. Companion legislation is due to be introduced in the Senate on Wednesday. A Republican Senate aide said no Senate vote is scheduled, while a second aide said much of the party’s Obamacare strategy will be ironed out at next week’s Republican retreat for House and Senate members.

But congressional aides, lobbyists and analysts say the measure represents the opening salvo for a Republican strategy to tweak Obamacare by altering or repealing narrow segments of the law that are unpopular with Republicans and some Democrats. Those include taxes on medical devices and health insurers as well as penalties that await businesses and individuals who fail to comply with insurance requirements.

Republican aides say the aim is to produce “bipartisan” bills that Obama might sign into law. But White House officials said the president, who threatened to veto an identical House measure last year, is likely to issue a new veto threat this week. The 40-hour focus has also stirred misgivings among some conservative commentators. Both sides warn that pegging employer coverage to a 40-hour week would put more workers at risk for reduced hours.

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