Opening Republican salvo on Obamacare draws fire on both sides

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The first congressional Republican attempt to weaken Obamacare with some Democratic support appeared to be headed for trouble with both parties 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. But two days before an expected House vote, the legislation is already facing a conservative call to block its passage and a potential White House veto threat. Companion legislation is due to be introduced in the Senate on Wednesday. It was not clear when a Senate vote might occur. But congressional aides, lobbyists and analysts say the measure represents the opening salvo for a Republican strategy of chipping away at 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 on Tuesday the president would likely veto the 40-hour legislation if it landed on his desk, a threat likely to dampen any enthusiasm for the bill from congressional Democrats. Republicans have long complained that the current Obamacare definition of full-time work as 30 hours a week was causing workers to lose hours and discouraging businesses from hiring new employees. But administration officials have pointed to reports, including a February 2014 analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, showing that more people could be affected by a change because more employees work 40 hours a week than 30 hours. The same point has been made by some conservative commentators who would prefer to see Republicans repeal Obamacare's requirement for employers altogether. Bill Kristol, influential editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, on Tuesday questioned why Republicans should try to "fix" Obamacare instead of dismantle the law and urged conservative lawmakers to resist the measure. "Conservatives in House could show clout by blocking this ill-advised 'fix' of Obamacare," he said on Twitter. (Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Christian Plumb)