What Hearing Did That Slate Reporter Attend?

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I went to testify before the Senate last Thursday and it went as these things do. I had recently written an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal and was asked to appear to discuss the Forty Hours is Full Time Act, a bill that would raise Obamacare’s threshold for employer sponsored coverage from 30 hours to 40 hours a week, eliminating the economic incentive to reduce employees’ hours to fewer than 30 a week. I was invited to testify as the CEO of CKE Restaurants, Inc., which owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurant chains.

But, as is often the case, the more important event may have been some of the post-hearing media coverage. In particular, one article in Slate that ran on Real Clear Politics stands as a case study in the struggles of advocacy journalism with the factual record. As I read this article, I was reminded of Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s wise statement that, “[e]veryone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

First, the article states that another witness and I were “in a tough spot” because we had to “explain why [we] were not providing health coverage to so many of [our] workers.” Actually, I was never “in a tough spot” on this point because no committee member ever asked me for such an explanation. I wish someone had.

As I stated in both my written and oral testimony, we offer all – as in every single one – of our employees who qualify for Obamacare that form of coverage (rather than paying the penalty and sending them to the exchanges). We also offer access to inexpensive group insurance to all our employees who are ineligible for employer-sponsored Obamacare insurance. So, every one of our employees has access to health insurance and this has been our policy as long as I’ve been CEO (over 14 years). Had I been asked, I would have been more than happy to discuss the coverage options and why we make sure everyone has the option to purchase insurance. I would hardly have been in a tough spot explaining our actions.

Second, this article states that Sen. Murray “noted that Puzder’s claim—that Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. workers who did not get coverage at work could get Obamacare coverage instead—did not hold up in the many states that have rejected the law’s Medicaid expansion.” In reality, I never made this claim concerning our employees getting Obamacare coverage and I never even mentioned Medicaid coverage.

Contrary to what Slate and Sen. Murray appear to believe, our employees who work over 30 hours a week make more than the Medicaid cap even in states that did expand that program, so they would be ineligible for coverage regardless of where they live. Had Sen. Murray asked me a question on the substance of this topic, I would have so informed her. She chose to simply make a statement, and Slate reached its own conclusions.

Third, the article stated that I said many “Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. franchisees simply could not afford to provide coverage to part-timers. ‘Our franchisees are always trying to keep costs down—that’s the way American businessmen and women succeed.’” It’s an interesting quote. It’s just not something I said. Our franchisees own and operate their own restaurants. My entire testimony discussed our company-owned restaurants, not our franchisees’ restaurants.

I did say -- and I said this about our company-employed general managers, not our franchisees -- that “[i]n an effort to keep consumer prices down, remain competitive and earn their bonuses, our general managers (who are 62 percent minorities and 66 percent women) are always doing what they can to keep costs down. That’s the way American businessmen and women succeed.” But again, let’s be clear, my testimony was about our company-owned restaurant general managers who are employees, not franchisees. I said nothing about what franchises can or cannot afford.

My testimony wasn’t even about whether our company (let alone our franchisees) can afford Obamacare’s coverage requirements. Over and above the 1,447 employees to whom we already provided coverage before Obamacare, we offered 5,453 additional eligible employees Obamacare coverage and stood ready to pay the costs of insuring them. Only 420 enrolled. There is a cost associated with insuring these 420 individuals, but it’s something we can fairly easily absorb. The same can’t be said for the thousands of our employees who declined coverage and will have to pay Obamacare’s individual mandate penalty.

Finally, the article refers to what the author believes I earned in 2012. Since I wasn’t complaining about Obamacare’s costs, this point seems irrelevant (I wonder how often such notes are made about political or business figures who please Slate). But, in any event, I’m not ashamed of being successful. When looking at issues that impact the business community, I’ve always felt it was beneficial to hear from successful businessmen and women. In fact, I believe businessmen and women have an obligation to speak up. But, they're generally reluctant to do so, despite their experience and expertise, as certain politically motivated media outlets will inevitably portray them as the bad guys. This only serves to stifle legitimate debate. Perhaps that's the goal. I hope not. I hope everyone's true desire is to see businesses create more good-paying jobs for the American people.

So, to summarize, this article implied a question was asked that wasn’t, falsely attributed to me a statement (“Puzder’s claim”) I never made, came up with a second statement (“he said”) that I also never made and then tried to discredit me based on what the author believes I earned in 2012. Problematic journalism at the least.

The problem, and the real point of this hearing, is that American businesses have adjusted to Obamacare’s 30-hours-a-week coverage threshold by turning hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of jobs where employees work 30 hours or more a week into jobs where they work under 30 hours. This is hurting American workers who need the hours and incomes. The Forty Hours is Full Time Act is an Obamacare fix that would leave the law otherwise intact. In fact, it wouldn’t even eliminate Obamacare’s employer mandate as the left-leaning Urban Institute advocates. This bipartisan bill has passed in the House and has the votes to pass in the Senate, if the Republicans can get the 60 votes needed to bring it to a vote. Republicans only have 54 votes, but with the two Democrats who co-sponsored this bill, there are already at least 56 votes.

Co-sponsors Sens. Collins (R-ME), Donnelly (D-IN), Murkowski (R-AK) and Manchin (D-WV) deserve a lot of credit for introducing this bipartisan bill that would restore the traditional 40-hour work week. Chairman Lamar Alexander deserves praise for holding hearings that give our legislators the facts they need about the bills they are considering. There seems to be some obvious bipartisan common ground here, but reaching it would require both sides listening to each other rather than mischaracterizing and demonizing each other. 

Andy Puzder is the chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants. He is an economic adviser to the Trump campaign. His Twitter handle is @AndyPuzder, and you can read his blog at andy.puzder.com.

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