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Reid Claims Congress and Staff Will Be Treated the ‘Same’ As Public Under Obamacare

• September 17, 2013 1:28 pm

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Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) sharply criticized Sen. David Vitter's (R., La.) bill that would eliminate public subsidies of health insurance premiums for Congress and their staffs Tuesday on the Senate floor.

Reid disputed the notion Congressional members and staff would be treated differently in the new health insurance exchanges:

HARRY REID: […] So even more directly to the point, Mr. president, members of Congress and our staff will live by the same rules and get their health care from the same exchanges as other Americans. But the junior senator from Louisiana, I repeat and a number of other misguided Republicans want to force members of Congress and their staffs to live by a different set of rules. Although Senator Vitter has happily allowed the federal government to pay for a portion of his health insurance for many, many years, as a member of the House of Representatives and as a member of the Senate, now he wants to force these 16,000 congressional workers to cover the full cost of their health insurance. With this background one must ask, if Senator Vitter opposes the employer contribution to Congressional staffers, does he oppose it also for the 150 million other americans whose employers help pay their health insurance premiums? Does he want to discourage private employers from doing the right thing and providing their employees with affordable health insurance? Is that what he wants? Just to do away with health insurance that 150 million Americans have in America? Millions, I repeat, millions and millions of employers rely on this important benefit to attract the best and brightest and hardest working people they can find. Ending the employer contribution would effectively slap 150 million Americans with a pay cut and a big pay cut. Is that Senator Vitter's intention? If Republican senators believe they should bear the full cost of their own health insurance, they can without any change in the law can decline the federal government's employer contribution and pay their own way. They can even encourage their own staffs to do so. Why they would want to do that I don't understand but they can do that. But for Senator Vitter and his Republican allies to end the contribution for 16,000 hardworking federal employees, even after years of accepting the subsidy themselves is hypocritical and mean-spirited.

However, Reid's comparison of Congress and its generous health insurance cost sharing to privately sponsored plans is tenuous.

Individuals who lose their private health insurance under Obamacare will be forced onto the exchanges without the subsidies Congressional staffs will receive, John Fund of the National Review reports:

Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, has demanded a floor vote on his bill to end an exemption that members of Congress and their staffs are slated to get that will make them the only participants in the new Obamacare exchanges to receive generous subsidies from their employer to pay for their health insurance. Angry Senate Democrats have drafted legislation that dredges up a 2007 prostitution scandal involving Vitter. The confrontation is a perfect illustration of just how wide the gulf in attitudes is between the Beltway and the rest of the country — and how viciously Capitol Hill denizens will fight for their privileges.

[…]

Senator Vitter says the OPM ruling has removed "the sting of Obamacare" from Congress. "Many Americans will see their health coverage dropped by employers, and they will be forced into the exchanges," he told me last week. "If Congress is forced into them on the same terms, it will be more likely to fix Obamacare’s problems for others." The bill he and his co-author, Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming, have drafted would make everyone working on Capitol Hill buy insurance through the exchanges — with no subsidies. White House officials and political appointees in the executive branch would also be required to obtain health insurance through the exchanges.

Additionally, many in Congress are unconvinced the Office of Personnel Management's decision to offer legislative staff health insurance aid is actually legal.

Congressman Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) has written a letter to the OPM protesting their decision and is sponsoring a complementary bill to Vitter's in the House which would eliminate the subsidies.