On Wednesday, immediately after the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued a proposed ruling that allowed the federal government to subsidize the health insurance premiums of Congressional staffers--even though that may not be allowed under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)--Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) released the hold he had placed on President Barack Obama's nominee to head the agency.
Last week, Coburn blocked the nomination of Katherine Archuleta--who was the national political director for Obama's 2012 campaign--after a Senate committee approved her nomination "in an attempt to force OPM to explain its position" on the Obamacare subsidies.
In a proposed ruling that will be published in the Federal Register on Thursday, OPM deemed that the federal government could still subsidize 75% of the cost of the insurance premiums of plans Congressional aides must now purchase on government-run exchanges. Lawmakers and aides will not be eligible for tax credits to offset the premiums. Right after the announcement, Coburn dropped his his hold on the nomination
Under Obamacare, lawmakers and staff "must purchase plans on the exchanges for coverage," but the law did not allow for the federal government to subsidize the new insurance plans, as lawmakers wanted Congressmen and their aides to play by the same rules as their constituents. Lawmakers. though, feared aides would leave Congress because individuals and families would be forced to pay $5,500 and $11,000 more, respectively, for unsubsidized insurance on the government exchanges. Last week, Congress and President Barack Obama indicated they had solved the problem and a ruling would be forthcoming.
It is still not clear whether the federal government can subsidize the insurance premiums of lawmakers and aides without passing a legislative fix. Congress is reluctant to formally vote themselves a special favor because they do not want to risk further angering constituents who believe Washington politicians are becoming more removed from the lives of everyday Americans.
With OPM's ruling on the matter, the path has now been cleared for Archuleta to become its new head. According to the Federal Times, the Senate is unlikely to take up Archuleta’s nomination "until September at the earliest," though, since Congress is on recess.