Nothing angers United States Senators more than having their perks taken away. And chief among those perks is top-of-the-line healthcare at little or no cost.
But due to Obamacare’s sloppy drafting, the congressional healthcare perk is suddenly vulnerable. And Congress isn’t happy.
So Barack Obama – who’s spent much of the summer making adjustments to Obamacare that aren’t legal – is tweaking the law yet again. He’s taken the aggressive position that his staff can rewrite Obamacare at will. No congressional action is required to change the law, according to their logic.
First, the business mandate vanished. Originally, businesses with over 50 employees were supposed to provide insurance as of January 1. Obama unilaterally delayed this mandate for at least another year.
Next, the online marketplaces that sell the healthcare plans have been all but forgotten. They were supposed to automatically calculate subsidies based on income, but the programmers don’t have the systems ready. Not to worry – Obama said that all you have to do if you want a subsidy is claim one. There’s currently no way to verify whether your claim for a subsidy is legitimate…and there may never be.
And finally, in his most outrageous move yet, Obama has tweaked the healthcare law to make sure that congressmen and their staffs can collect big subsidies for their coverage. Obama ordered the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to reinterpret the law; and with the revisions in place, millionaire members of Congress will once again get their full subsidy.
Until Obamacare was passed, congressmen, along with all other Federal employees, participated in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP); and they routinely receive subsidies of $5,000 to $15,000 per year.
But when Obamacare was drafted, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa inserted a provision that all members of Congress and their staffs must buy insurance through the Obamacare health exchanges.
“The more that Congress experiences the laws it passes, the better,” Grassley said at the time. Since it’s difficult for Congress to argue that they be exempt from their own laws, they caved to Grassley’s demand.
Obama to the Rescue
Everyone thought the Grassley language would end federal healthcare subsidies. But the squeals in D.C. became so loud this summer that Obama rewrote the bill again. This time, he made sure that Congress and their staffs would still get the subsidies they so desperately craved.
But one Senator, David Vitter of Louisiana, doesn’t think this is right. He’s called for a vote to end the congressional exemption from paying full freight for health insurance.
Vitter’s bill would stop the rewrite and once again subject congressmen and their staffs to the same problems faced by Americans who are paying more money for less care under the “Affordable Care Act.” In reality, the act is neither affordable nor fair, as millions of Americans are about to lose employer-based healthcare.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Harry Reid was actually forced to shut down the Senate to keep any debate of the Vitter bill from taking place. Reid and the other leaders of the Senate don’t want Americans to know what’s going on. They’re worried that all Americans will begin demanding discounted healthcare.
After being pushed around, Vitter was so mad he actually made a complaint to the Senate Ethics Committee about Reid and Senator Barbara Boxer. The language used is rarely on display in the Senate, a body that prides itself as the home of honest and fair discussion.
The Vitter language is so strong, I want to quote it exactly: “Harry Reid is acting like an old-time Vegas mafia thug, and a desperate one at that… Threatening to take away their colleagues’ health care coverage subsidy if they do not vote a certain way at worst constitutes bribery and a quid pro quo arrangement, and at best amounts to improper conduct,” he said.
Unfortunately, in spite of Vitter’s best efforts, the outcome here is pre-determined. Senators and staffers will get their subsidies. But it’s refreshing to see someone on Capitol Hill actually working to end a perk.
Way to go, Senator Vitter.
This commentary originally appeared at CapitolHillDaily.com and is reprinted here with permission.
Photo credit: terrellaftermath