Members of Congress and their staffers may not be getting special breaks and benefits from Obamacare if two U.S. senators are successful in making official Washington deal with the same health care system every other American must navigate as the law gets implemented.
Earlier this month, in responding to the plea from lawmakers of both parties, the Obama administration granted certain exemptions and special subsidies for members of Congress and key staffers in order to ward off a mass exodus of veteran Hill aides.
But Senators David Vitter (R-La.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wy.) are now pushing legislation to force Congress to give up the special deal since it’s not part of the actual law and the law was never changed through the legislative process.
“It’s necessary because of this ridiculous rule issued by the administration that exempts members of Congress from certain parts of the sting of Obamacare. There’s a specific provision in Obamacare that says every member of Congress, every member of our staff, has to go to the exchanges just like the fallback position for all of the American people. Under this special rule, there’s a huge subsidy created out of thin air, it’s not in the statute, to take all the sting out of that move,” said Vitter. “I think that’s ridiculous and I think it’s exactly what the American people hate most about Washington, Washington creating special and favorable exemptions and rules for Washington and not the American people.”
Obamacare was passed entirely on Democratic votes but Vitter says members of both parties eagerly sought special treatment for themselves and their staffers.
“There was a lot of jockeying and lobbying behind the scenes for this special fix, this special rule for Washington, and unfortunately it was very bipartisan. There were a bunch of establishment Republicans in on the deal,” said Vitter, who says his ultimate goal is not to force misery on more people but to make lawmakers see what a bad deal Obamacare is for everyone and get them to drastically change or scrap the law.
The Vitter-Enzi law would also force the executive branch personnel to abide by the same terms of Obamacare as the general population. Democrats currently control the Senate, but Vitter says he plans to force a vote on this issue every chance he gets.
“We’re going to bring it up as an amendment on any number of bills until we get a vote, and we’ll keep trying until it happens,” he said. “This is pretty time-sensitive because this special insider deal, this special rule could go into effect by October 1, so we’re to start demanding a vote immediately.”
After so much lobbying for the special treatment from both sides of the aisle, Vitter knows he and Enzi might get a frosty response from their colleagues on this issue.
“I think you’re going to see two very different reactions. (There’s the) private reaction, in which case I think Mike and I will be chewed out by a bunch of our colleagues. That’s fine. I’m used to that,” said Vitter. “And then the public reaction when we force a vote when some folks who chewed us out will vote with us. I’m going to fight for a vote, as will Mike, so that everybody in the Senate gets to make a clear public stand, either with Washington or with the American people.”
Because the Obama administration quietly created the new rule, the Vitter-Enzi amendment would be the first actual vote on whether members and their staffers deserve special treatment. Most lawmakers haven’t been forced to publicly defend the policy they urged the administration to adopt. Vitter has a hunch how some members will try to justify it.
“Some of these folks are going to argue that it will create a ‘brain drain’ from congressional staff. Most folks in the real world who hear that argument react in two ways. First of all, are these the same brains that gave us Obamacare? If it’s the same brains we’re talking about, we can do without them,” said Vitter. “Secondly, yeah, that may be a problem but it’s a problem for America, not just for Washington. We need to fix those sorts of problems for America, not just for Washington.”
Vitter is also among a dozen GOP senators to support defunding Obamacare in connection with funding the federal government in the coming fiscal year. He admits winning a public relations battle with Democrats over a possible government shutdown, but he says lawmakers must seize every opportunity to stop what he believes to be a disastrous law.
“I think that’s a legitimate question about tactics. I’m for delay, repeal, defunding, anything in that direction that will work. I think we need to be very aggressive about it and take it a step at a time. I think the first step should be the U.S. House voting a government funding bill that also defunds Obamacare and send that to the Senate. Certainly, I would support that bill in the Senate,” said Vitter.