The Politico — hardly a right-wing rag — has broken a story about a bipartisan group of politicians seeking to exempt themselves and their staffs from the impending implementation of ObamaCare:
Congressional leaders in both parties are engaged in high-level, confidential talks about exempting lawmakers and Capitol Hill aides from the insurance exchanges they are mandated to join as part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, sources in both parties said.
The talks — which involve Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Obama administration and other top lawmakers — are extraordinarily sensitive, with both sides acutely aware of the potential for political fallout from giving carve-outs from the hugely controversial law to 535 lawmakers and thousands of their aides. Discussions have stretched out for months, sources said.
A source close to the talks says: “Everyone has to hold hands on this and jump, or nothing is going to get done.”
Yet if Capitol Hill leaders move forward with the plan, they risk being dubbed hypocrites by their political rivals and the American public. By removing themselves from a key Obamacare component, lawmakers and aides would be held to a different standard than the people who put them in office.
Democrats, in particular, would take a public hammering as the traditional boosters of Obamacare. Republicans would undoubtedly attempt to shred them over any attempt to escape coverage by it, unless Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) give Democrats cover by backing it.
The problem stems from whether members and aides set to enter the exchanges would have their health insurance premiums subsidized by their employer — in this case, the federal government. If not, aides and lawmakers in both parties fear that staffers — especially low-paid junior aides — could be hit with thousands of dollars in new health care costs, prompting them to seek jobs elsewhere. Older, more senior staffers could also retire or jump to the private sector rather than face a big financial penalty.
Several proposals have been submitted to the Office of Personnel Management, which will administer the benefits. One proposal exempts lawmakers and aides; the other exempts aides alone.
When asked about the high-level bipartisan talks, Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman, said: “The speaker’s objective is to spare the entire country from the ravages of the president’s health care law. He is approached daily by American citizens, including members of Congress and staff, who want to be freed from its mandates. If the speaker has the opportunity to save anyone from Obamacare, he will.”
Reid’s office declined to comment about the bipartisan talks.
El Rushbo today quoted “Tricky Dick” Burr, Kay Hagan’s BFF, expressing concerns about how ObamaCare might affect his lower-paid junior staffers.
Bob Moffit, the healthcare guru at The HeritageFoundation has weighed in on all this as well:
No argument for Obamacare’s repeal can top the simple fact that Members of Congress do not want it to apply to them.
Today’s Politico reports that the House and Senate congressional leadership—both Democrats and Republicans working in cahoots with Obama Administration officials—have been secretly negotiating for months trying to find a way to exempt Members of Congress and their staffs from being forced into Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges.
Beginning on January 1, 2014, these exchanges, to be run by the federal government or the states (under federal rules) will offer federally “qualified” insurance coverage for millions of Americans. Ordinary Americans must either sign up or face a tax penalty. Senator Max Baucus (D–MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has now famously described the Obama’s Administration’s implementation of this process as an oncoming “train wreck,” and Henry Chao, an Administration official involved with the implementation of the law, just hopes that Americans can avoid a “third-world experience.”
According to the Politico story, there are two major reasons why Members of Congress want to exempt themselves and their staffs from the terms and conditions of the law:
- They fear higher health care costs. Congressional leaders fear that being forced into the Obamacare exchanges will result in higher health care costs for themselves and their families and their aides. “The problem stems from whether members and aides set to enter the exchanges would have their health insurance premiums subsidized by their employer—in this case the federal government.” This is also true for millions of ordinary Americans. They could also lose their employer-based coverage, and they could also face higher costs. Also contrary to the President’s promises, independent analystsexpect health insurance premiums to rise sharply, particularly for younger workers and their families.
- They fear the impact on Capitol Hill employment. “There is concern in some quarters that the provision requiring lawmakers and staffers to join the exchanges, if it isn’t revised, could lead to a ‘brain drain’ on Capitol Hill, as several sources close to the talks put it.” Given the insane spending and record deficits, it’s hard to imagine how a Capitol Hill “brain drain” could produce even worse government. But ordinary Americans who run businesses are also faced with anxieties, particularly whether they will be able to hire or retain valued employees or reduce full-time Oworkers to part-time employees in order to avoid Obamacare’s mandatory costs.
For veteran Capitol Hill watchers, shenanigans behind closed doors to enable Congress and its staffers to escape Obamacare come as no surprise. After all, the national health care law was fashioned through repulsive backroom dealing (the “Cornhusker Kickback,” the “Louisiana Purchase,” etc.) that set a record for arrogance and contempt of popular opinion. Favored businesses and unions got special exemptions (more than 1,200 waivers) from Obamacare’s insurance rules. So consider today’s Politico revelation just marquee for a rerun of a tiresome old movie: one set of rules for Congress and another set of rules for the rest of us.
If Congress quietly wants to exempt itself from Obamacare, that’s great—so long as it includes the rest of us in that midnight amendment.
Damage control efforts are already underway. When the establishment gets caught with its hand in the cookie jar or with its fly open — or both things concurrently — it always turns to its friends at The Washington Post:
There’s a Politico story making the rounds that says that members of Congress are engaged in secret, sensitive negotiations to exempt themselves and their staffs from Obamacare.
If this sounds unbelievable, it’s because it is. There’s no effort to “exempt” Congress from Obamacare. No matter how this shakes out, Congress will have to follow the law, just like everyone else does.
Based on conversations I’ve had with a number of the staffs involved in these talks, the actual issue here is far less interesting, and far less explosive, than an exemption. Rather, a Republican amendment meant to embarrass Democrats and a too-clever-by-half Democratic response has possibly created a problem in which the federal government can’t make its normal contribution to the insurance premiums of congressional staffers.
See? This is getting boring already.
Here’s how it happened: Back during the Affordable Care Act negotiations, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) proposed an amendment forcing all members of Congress and all of their staffs to enter the exchanges. The purpose of the amendment was to embarrass the Democrats. But in a bit of jujitsu of which they were inordinately proud, Democrats instead embraced the amendment and added it to the law. Here’s the relevant text:
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 — (I) created under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act); or (II) offered through an Exchange established under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act).
Let’s stop for a moment here and explain why this is unusual. Large employers — defined in the law as employers with more than 100 employees — aren’t allowed onto the insurance exchanges until 2017, and only then if a state makes an affirmative decision to let them in.
But the federal government is the largest employer in the country. So Grassley’s amendment means that the largest employer in the country is required to put some of its employees — the ones working for Congress — on the exchanges. But the exchanges don’t have any procedures for handling premium contributions for large employers.
That’s where the problem comes in. This was an offhand amendment that was supposed to be rejected. It’s not clear that the federal government has the authority to pay for congressional staffers on the exchanges, the way it pays for them now in the federal benefits program. That could lead to a lot of staffers quitting Congress because they can’t afford to shoulder 100 percent of their premiums. (There’s also a smaller issue related to how retiree benefits might be calculated. But I’m only willing to go so far into the weeds here.)
You’ll notice a lot of hedged language here: “Ifs” and “coulds”. The reason is that the Office of Personnel Management — which is the agency that actually manages the federal government’s benefits — hasn’t ruled on their interpretation of the law. So no one is even sure if this will be an issue. […]
But no one is discussing “exempting” congressional staffers from Obamacare. They’re discussing creating some method through which the federal government can keep making its current contribution to the health insurance of congressional staffers.
“Even if OPM rules against us,” one staffer said, “it’s inaccurate to imply that any talks are aimed at exempting federal employees from routine mandates of ACA since any talks are about resolving the unique bind that the Grassley amendment puts federal employees in.”
This isn’t, in other words, an effort to flee Obamacare. It’s an effort to fix a drafting error that prevents the federal government from paying into insurance exchanges on behalf of congressional staffers who got caught up in a political controversy.
*Nothing to see here. Move along. These are NOT the droids you are looking for.*