Congressional Exemption Debated During Cruz Talkathon
A proposal by Senator David Vitter (R-LA), which would put lawmakers' staffers on the Obamacare exchanges was discussed during the Tuesday through Wednesday's non-stop remarks made by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). Cruz wants to take Vitter's proposal one step further and place all federal employees on the exchanges without subsidies. This move would also place lawmakers on the exchanges as well.
We should vote on the Vitter amendment. Indeed I’d like to see the Vitter amendment broader,” Cruz said. “Right now federal employees earn substantially more than the private sector does. I don’t think there is any entitlement to take our tax dollars and live in a privileged condition as a federal employee,” Cruz said.
Vitter stood with Cruz on the floor Tuesday night, as Cruz argued what some call a "Congressional exemption." Vitter, however, does not want to include all federal employees:
Vitter appeared briefly with Cruz in a show of conservative solidarity over what Vitter calls a “Washington exemption,” but they don’t agree on who should be exempted. Vitter’s camp believes including all federal employees is “clearly part of an effort” to keep the exemption and make it easier for Democrats to vote the amendment down.
“Sen. Vitter strongly opposes this effort as it would effectively ensure Congress keeps their exemption, and it’s clearly part of an effort to keep the Obamacare exemption for Congress,” Vitter chief of staff Kyle Ruckert wrote in a Monday email to Republican chiefs of staff that was obtained by POLITICO. “Democrats and moderates would easily vote this down, with very little to no pressure. They would vote no, in order to protect the millions of federal employees, their unions, active duty military and some public school teachers.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) argued that the Vitter amendment does the opposite of what GOP members say it does. After debating Cruz on the floor of the Senate Tuesday night, Kaine told Breitbart News:
I look at the Vitter amendment as precisely the opposite. The Vitter amendment would say that the employer of all these employees cannot pay the employer share for their insurance. Even though 150 million Americans work in settings where the employer pays a portion of their insurance. The Vitter amendment would deny that.
Kaine continued, "We would never pass a bill that would prohibit employers from paying part of the cost of the insurance. We’d never do that. In fact, to the contrary, we have all kinds of legislation we’ve passed to give all kinds of incentives to employers—tax incentives to pay for a portion of their employees’ health care."
"In fact, to the contrary, we have all kinds of legislation we’ve passed to give all kinds of incentives to employers—tax incentives to pay for a portion of their employees’ health care," Kaine said. "The Vitter amendment is actually the exemption of the federal employees. It denies federal employees what 150 million American workers have, which is an employer who will pay for a portion for their healthcare."
Vitter has penned in a National Review op-ed, however, that "millions of Americans who will be forced into the exchange will not get employer subsidies to contribute to the cost of their exchange policy. That’s in Obamacare. That’s the law.":
Members of Congress who do decide to go on the exchange would get a huge taxpayer-funded subsidy (about $5,000 for single workers or about $10,000 for families) unavailable to all other Americans at the same income levels going on the exchange. This creates a special Obamacare exemption for members of Congress and congressional staff.
The Obamacare statute states very clearly that all members of Congress and their staffs are to procure their health insurance through the Obamacare exchange. Just as clearly, it does not provide for government support of their present coverage under the separate Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan to continue on the exchange. In fact, Section 1512 of the statute says clearly that employees going on the exchange lose their previous employer subsidies. That’s why this special rule for Congress is illegal.