Takin' care of Congress
By Byron York
Published: Friday, Oct. 4, 2013, 8:57 p.m.
“I'm going to get a vote,” says Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana. “I can't tell you how, or when, but I'm going to get a vote.”
Vitter is determined to force fellow senators to vote on whether ObamaCare applies to members of Congress and their staff.
In 2009, when Democrats were writing the massive new national health care scheme, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley offered an amendment. ObamaCare created exchanges through which millions of Americans would purchase “affordable” health coverage. Grassley's amendment simply required lawmakers, staff and some in the executive branch to get their insurance through the exchanges, too.
Democrats accepted the amendment. It's never been fully clear why; the best theory is they intended to take the provision out in conference committee, but couldn't do so because they lost their filibuster-proof 60-vote majority.
In any event, ObamaCare — the law of the land, as supporters like to say — now requires Congress to buy its health care coverage through the exchanges.
That's the law, but it could be amended. So over the summer, Democrats asked President Obama to simply create an ObamaCare exception for Capitol Hill.
Not long afterward — presto! — the Office of Personnel Management unveiled a proposed rule to allow members of Congress, their staff and some executive branch employees to continue receiving their generous federal subsidy even as they purchase coverage through the exchanges. No ordinary American would be allowed such an advantage.
Vitter began work on an amendment, which he likes to call “No Washington Exemption from ObamaCare,” which would reverse the OPM ruling. It specifies that members of Congress, staff, the president, vice president and all the administration's political appointees buy health coverage through ObamaCare exchanges. If any of them earn incomes low enough to qualify for regular ObamaCare subsidies, they will receive them — just like any other American. But those with higher incomes will have to pay for their coverage on the exchanges — just like everybody else.
Ron Johnson, the Republican senator from Wisconsin, is one colleague delighted by Vitter's move. The idea of equal ObamaCare treatment for Washington is enormously popular around the country, Johnson points out, which means even lawmakers who don't like it will be afraid to oppose it.
“I think most members don't want to vote to reject the OPM ruling,” Johnson says. “But I think most members would vote to do that, if they were forced to, because it is so politically unpopular to have special treatment for members of Congress and their staff.”
For that reason, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, aided by some Republicans, has done everything he can to make sure there will be no vote. When Vitter tried to attach his amendment to an energy bill, Reid at first resisted and finally pulled the legislation.
But in the long run, Vitter is likely to succeed. If there's anything that drives voters crazy, it is Congress exempting itself from the miseries it imposes on the American public. Some day, as ObamaCare becomes a difficult reality in everyday life, Vitter will get his vote.
Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.
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