by Michael Cannon, CATO Institute
ObamaCare’s gravest sin may be that it has offended America’s highest caste: members of Congress and their staffs. Thanks to an amendment by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the law provides:
the only health plans that the Federal Government may make available to Members of Congress and congressional staff with respect to their service as a Member of Congress or congressional staff shall be health plans that are created under this Act…or offered through an Exchange established under this Act…
In effect, ObamaCare throws members of Congress out of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (where most members and staff obtain health insurance) and offers them no other choice but to enroll in coverage through one of ObamaCare’s Exchanges. But here’s the kicker: though the federal government currently pays thousands of dollars of the cost of the congresscritters’ FEHBP coverage, neither ObamaCare nor any other federal law authorizes the feds to apply that money toward a congresscritter’s Exchange premiums. Today’s New York Times reports:
David M. Ermer, a lawyer who has represented insurers in the federal employee program for 30 years, said, “I do not think members of Congress and their staff can get funds for coverage in the exchanges under existing law.”
So ObamaCare essentially delivers a pay cut to members and staff in the neighborhood of $5,000 for single employees and $10,000 for families.
Even congressional Democrats who voted for ObamaCare are freaking out (and pointing fingers). Again, the New York Times:
Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado, said the Senate was responsible for the provision requiring lawmakers and many aides to get insurance in the exchanges.
“We had to take the Senate version of the health care bill,” Ms. DeGette said. “This is not anything we spent time talking about here in the House.”
Another House Democrat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “This was a stupid provision that never should have gotten into the law.”
You’d never know they had a choice, and voted for this provision anyway.
Finally, the Times notes, “The issue is politically charged because the White House and Congress are highly sensitive to any suggestion that lawmakers or their aides are getting special treatment under the health law” and, “Aides who work for Congressional committees and in leadership offices, like those of the speaker of the House and the majority and minority leaders of the two chambers, are apparently exempt — though neither Congress nor the administration has said for sure.” That creates the potential for a sneaky, backdoor way that ObamaCare supporters — say, the Senate Democrats who set budgets for congressional offices — could shield their staff from ObamaCare: shift staff from personal to committee and leadership offices.
Or, the White House could just decide to make the same contribution to their Exchange coverage, statute be damned. It wouldn’t be the first time this White House tried to protect ObamaCare by spending money that Congress never authorized.
Congressional watchdogs, be on the lookout.
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