Budget Battle Fallback Plan? Make Congress Buy Obamacare Exchange Coverage—Without Any Employer Contribution

Senate.govSenate.govHouse Republicans may have time to make one final move before a government shutdown arrives at midnight tonight. The question is what the move will be. Right now, there’s a lot of talk, and activist pressure, surrounding the Vitter amendment. That amendment does away with the so-called congressional “exemption” to Obamacare.

The exemption, as I’ve said before, isn’t exactly an exemption. It’s a form of special treatment. Congress is the only employer required to send its employees onto the exchanges. In a recent ruling, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) singled out Hill employees again, allowing legislators and their aides to use their existing employer contribution to help offset the cost of that insurance. The law treated Hill staffers and lawmakers differently from everyone else; the OPM ruling made that treatment considerably easier to tolerate.

The argument for attaching the Vitter amendment to a CR as a way to push back against the health law is fairly straightforward. For one thing, it's not clear that OPM has the authority to allow employer contribution to be used toward exchange purchased insurance. For another, taking away something described as a congressional exemption polls really well—better than 90 percent in some polls. So if the House were to send Democrats a funding bill with the Vitter amendment attached, and Senate Democrats refused to pas it, then Harry Reid and co. would be on the wrong side of those polls. Senate Democrats would be accused of shutting down the government to protect their own special treatment.

Supporters of the Vitter amendment also believe it could put pressure on Senate Democrats to delay some or perhaps even all of the law. That’s because cutting off access to the existing employer contribution to health benefits would significantly raise the out of pocket cost of health insurance for affected legislators and staffers. Basically, in addition to being forced to drop their current federal benefits coverage for exchange coverage, they’d all be forced to take a pay cut. The more painful Obamacare is for legislators and their staffs, the thinking goes, the easier it will be to tear the law down.

Not everyone is sold on the idea. Partly because it’s a bank shot against the health law; it leaves the major components intact, and hopes that Congress feels enough pain to respond. Partly because a response wouldn’t necessarily be what Obamacare critics are hoping for. After all, the obvious comeback is that, if it’s just a pay cut, then legislators could give their staffers (who are the most vulnerable here) raises to compensate for the lost incomes. Maybe Congress would be criticized for doing so, but it might not be as visible as a grand uniform salary raise for everyone on the Hill. A big part of the fear is “brain drain”—the early exodus of high-quality staffers as a result of benefits reductions. As those folks leave, Hill offices could simply begin hiring at higher salary rates that make up for what’s been lost.

As a fallback attack on Obamacare, then, it leaves something to be desired. But with the expiration of current government funding rapidly approaching, and the notion of a full-year delay just as dead in the Senate now as it’s always been, it may be the only option left aside from skipping straight to embracing a shutdown.  

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  • The Late P Brooks||

    The law treated Hill staffers and lawmakers differently from everyone else

    No

    fucking

    way.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Senate Democrats would be accused of shutting down the government to protect their own special treatment.

    Uh, accused by whom?

  • Brian D||

    Faux News and Teathuglican anarchists!!

  • sarcasmic||

    Those poor Democrats are just trying to reach a compromise, but he Republicans are obstructionists!

  • anon||

    I like how "compromise" goes something like "give me everything I want and you get jack shit."

  • Mike M.||

    That's Obama summed up in one sentence. He won, and in his childish little mind that's the only thing that matters; everyone else is irrelevant.

  • Ken Shultz||

    The cake is a lie.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "Obamacare requires members of Congress and their staffers to purchase health insurance on the exchanges, something no other group is required to do."

    Is that entirely correct, Suderman?

    Seems to me I heard something about an "individual mandate", once.

    I must have been dreamin'.

  • Nephilium||

    I think that phrase means that they must purchase insurance through the exchanges, as opposed to having the possibility of it being provided by their employer.

  • Ken Shultz||

    There are plenty of people who will be required to purchase insurance on the crummy exchanges.

    You have to stare at those trees cross-eyed for a long time not to see that forest.

  • Nephilium||

    But there's always the Penaltax option... so it's not force-force.

    I wish more people would start hammering Congress on the number of the laws they pass for which they exempt themselves. From where I sit, it seems to be an easy item to club people with.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "But there's always the Penaltax option... so it's not force-force."

    If the penaltax at its present rate is insufficient to drive enough people to buy insurance, then they will have to raise it high enough to register as force-force in the average person's estimation, right? Otherwise, what's the point of having a penaltax?

    Oh, and anything that uses a law enforcement agency to make people do something they wouldn't do otherwise is force, right?

    But you were just kidding with that statement anyway, weren't you.

    Weren't you?

  • Nephilium||

    I was hoping the force-force reference would identify the non serious nature of that statement... it appears I hoped in vain. This is what I get for being primarily a lurker here.

  • Swiss Servator, Geneverific!||

    For that you must suffer rape-rape! Now where is STEVE SMITH when you need him...?

  • Jordan||

    It's okay. I still appreciate your contribution to the fight against Diablo.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I thought you might be kidding--which is why I asked...

    It's just really hard to spoof people on ObamaCare anymore because no matter how badly you spoof ObamaCare supporters, there are whole legions of people out there who are actually far worse than that.

  • PapayaSF||

    I wish more people would start hammering Congress on the number of the laws they pass for which they exempt themselves.

    That was part of the Contract With America that helped the GOP win the House in 1994. Yes, it ought to be something Republicans hammer on all the time.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I'm sure they'll get right on that.

    ...just as soon as they lose control of the House.

  • Number 2||

    But if you buy your own plan on the exchanges, your employer cannot pay the premium. The OBM ruling allows congress and its staffers to buy on the exchanges and have their employer, the government, bear the cost. That's the benefit no one else can have.

  • Peter Suderman||

    Congress is the only employer required to send its employees onto the exchanges. I've updated the post to make this more clear.

  • Nephilium||

    While you're updating the post... you may want to clean this up:

    For one thing, there’s a good argument to be made that the ruling isn’t taking away something described as a congressional exemption polls really well—better than 90 percent in some polls.
  • Biden's Scroteplugs||

    acting like that is a big deal is ridiculous. they should go to the exchanges for fiscal responsibility reasons, the same reason many others will. the only reason it had to be spelled out is because government would not choose fiscal responsibility.

  • Biden's Scroteplugs||

    Congress is the only employer required to send its employees onto the exchanges.

    such bullshit. Congress is the only employer that can change the rules, so they're not really like other employers. they expressed their choice to put themselves and their staffers on the exchanges in the law.

  • Number 2||

    See my post above. The key difference is if an individual goes to the exchange, he must pay the full premium, and his employer cannot pay it for him. Congress- people are the only ones who can choose their own coverage on their exchange and have their employers pay for it.

    When you explain this, the favored treatment becomes more clear.

  • Alice Bowie||

    No political should receive healthcare, pension, or any other benefit from the Government. In addition, they should not make more than the median income.

  • KPres||

    I take this to mean you think we're attracting too much talent into government already?

  • Biden's Scroteplugs||

    something no other group is required to do.

    I thought a lot of people were forced on the exchanges. please explain.

  • SugarFree||

    A big part of the fear is “brain drain”—the early exodus of high-quality staffers as a result of benefits reductions.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh, Jeebus. Tell us another one. This shit is hilarious.

  • John||

    You bastard!!!

  • SugarFree||

    The squirrels love me.

  • John||

    A big part of the fear is “brain drain”—the early exodus of high-quality staffers as a result of benefits reductions. As those folks leave, Hill offices could simply begin hiring at higher salary rates that make up for what’s been lost.

    That is comedy gold. The average hill rat is a slightly more intelligent and properly medicated shreek. They could pretty much hire the homeless guys who work the Eastern Market District and not suffer any drop in average intelligence and probably would see an increase.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The braintrust that almost screwed themselves into being subject to Obamacare.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    the obvious comeback is that, if it’s just a pay cut, then legislators could give their staffers (who are the most vulnerable here) raises to compensate for the lost incomes.

    Fuck you, cut spending!

  • Swiss Servator, Geneverific!||

    Can we modify that to "fuck off you slavers, cut spending"?

  • Biden's Scroteplugs||

    The law treated Hill staffers and lawmakers differently from everyone else; the OPM ruling made that treatment considerably easier to tolerate.

    Suderman actually feels sympathy for these fucks.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Those "most vulnerable" staffers are just glorified messenger boys and/or concubines.

  • John||

    Teenagers from the right backgrounds willing to give blowjobs to get ahead are harder to find than you think Brooks.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I hope they all starve to death.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Give him a break, guys.

    I think Suderman hit the "Submit" button by accident.

  • Longtorso, Johnny||

    A big part of the fear is “brain drain”—the early exodus of high-quality staffers

    I saw this in the comments and thought, nah, even Suderman isn't that stupid. Maybe the autoerotic asphyxiation foreplay between he and the missus is starting to really kill off the brain cells.

  • Swiss Servator, Kneel to Zug!||

    We should have never sent him that signed copy of "SugarFree's Dungeon-Master's Guide".

  • Longtorso, Johnny||

  • Ken Shultz||

    In Suderman's defense, he may have been offering this up as other people's arguments rather than his own.

    As in, "This is the argument against getting rid of the Drug War: ..."

    In which case, we're shooting the messenger. I might disagree with Suderman, sometimes, but Suderman isn't the enemy.

  • Jordan||

    In Suderman's defense, he may have been offering this up as other people's arguments rather than his own.

    I thought it was obvious.

  • Longtorso, Johnny||

    There isn't anything in the article or any of Suderman's earlier writings that make this sound like someone else's argument he is merely quoting w/o approval.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Suderman has been open about his opposition to ObamaCare.

    He seems to oppose it for different reasons than I do, and his preferred tactics for getting rid of it are different than mine...

    But he's always seemed to have been against ObamaCare. He was against it before it was passed, and he's been critical of it ever since.

  • Jordan||

  • creech||

    Prediction: millions of those who will be required to buy insurance as of tomorrow or pay a penalty, will not buy the insurance nor will they ever be caught and forced to pay a penalty.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    And who will pick up that tab?

  • JwithK||

    "The exemption, as I’ve said before, isn’t exactly an exemption. It’s a form of special treatment. Congress is the only employer required to send its employees onto the exchanges."

    That's factually true, but I have a hard time considering this "special treatment," considering the exchanges are worse than their original employee based health care. The fact that they were required to downgrade toward exchanges is ridiculous (something which no other group of people are forced do by the government), so I see no problem with tweaking an unnecessary (and strange) requirement that forced a group of people off the health care plan they had and onto the exchanges (which are almost exclusively for those not insured by their employers). I am not saying that Obamacare is a good thing, but this complaints seems really spurious and irrelevant in comparisons to more legitimate criticisms of ObamaCare.

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