In a rare show of bipartisanship over President Obama's health care law, a Senate committee voted unanimously Wednesday to exclude veterans from the 50-worker threshold that triggers required coverage for employees under that statute.
The Senate Finance Committee vote was 26-0, a departure from the usual party-line fights over Obama's showcase 2010 law.
Yet senators' comments suggested that party-line battling over many aspects of the statute -- and other laws -- could erupt when the measure reaches the full Senate. Lawmakers described potential amendments ranging from restoring expired tax credits to paying veterans a $10.10 hourly minimum wage to exempting additional workers from the 50-employee threshold.
"We should consider other categories of Americans who also should be relieved of this job-killing provision," said Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa.
Despite repeated pledges by Republicans now running Congress to repeal and replace the health care law, Democrats said the committee's actions Wednesday were an acknowledgment that such efforts were going nowhere. Obama has promised to veto any congressional effort to dismantle the law.
"Senators do not make changes to laws that are going away," said Sen. Ron Wyden, R-Ore.
Obama's law is gradually phasing in a requirement that companies with at least 50 workers offer health coverage to their employees. The Senate bill would let employers exclude from that count veterans who receive health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs or the military.
Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the bill "will help our nation's veterans find needed jobs" and encourage small businesses to hire them.
Democrats said they shared that goal but doubted it would have much effect.
"It really won't have much impact either way, other than somebody's talking point," Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said afterward.
There are relatively few firms on the cusp of having 50 workers who could avoid providing health care to their entire work force by hiring qualified veterans.
Using Census Bureau figures, the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation says that 28,000 of the nation's 5.7 million employers have from 44 to 49 workers. Kaiser data shows that 83 percent of companies with 25 to 49 workers already offer health benefits to their employees.
The House approved the legislation earlier this month 412-0 with White House support.