Pity poor Jeff Flake. And John McCain. And Susan Collins, Roger Wicker, Kelly Ayotte, Deb Fischer, Richard Burr, Lindsey Graham, and Rand Paul, and at least three other GOP Senators too timid to allow a reporter to quote them by name as they disparaged a fellow Republican.
Bless their hearts, they apparently haven’t had time to read a law that was enacted more than five years ago. Nor, apparently and ironically, have their staffs.
At least, that’s the only benign conclusion one can draw, after reading their on-the-record quotes in Politico’s latest defense of the indefensible: Congress’ special exemption from Obamacare.
Entitled, “Vitter’s Anti-Obamacare Crusade Draws Scorn – from GOP,” and reported by Manu Raju, the piece contains quote after quote from GOP Senators, each in turn explaining how Sen. David Vitter’s “crusade” to end Congress’ special treatment is misdirected, or misguided, or political, or (my favorite!) “disingenuous.”
At issue, for those who are yet unaware, is the extraordinary and illegal treatment granted Members of Congress and their staffs, stemming from an August 2013 ruling by the Office of Personnel Management, at the direction of the President.
Section 1312 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act says specifically that upon enactment of the law, “the only health plans that the Federal Government may make available to Members of Congress and 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).”
Further, according to Section 1512 of the law, employees who purchase their health insurance through the exchanges “lose the employer contribution” many received to help defray the cost of their premiums.
In other words, Members of Congress and their staffs shall, upon enactment of the law, be required to give up their generous Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan health benefits – which included a generous taxpayer-funded subsidy to cover upwards of 70 percent of the cost of individual and family insurance premiums – and, instead, must purchase their health insurance through the Obamacare exchanges, without benefit of any employer contributions to subsidize the cost of their insurance.
That is the law, as written. Unfortunately, that is not the law as practiced, at least not since OPM ruled in clear violation of the law that Members and their staffs would continue to receive taxpayer-funded subsidies to help defray the cost of their premiums. And the absurdity of the OPM ruling is demonstrated by the lengths to which Congress had to go to pretend to stay within the confines of the law – Congress had to declare itself a “small business” with “fewer than 50 employees.”
Sen. Vitter believes the law should be implemented as it was enacted, not as some Members – apparently, many Members – want it to be enacted. In his determination to force Congress to live under the law as it was enacted, he is using his position as Chairman of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee to seek records of Congress’ application to the D.C. small business exchange.
Sen. Vitter is right to be incensed. The American people agree with him. In survey research conducted at the time the special exemption was created, and again just a few weeks ago, almost 90 percent of the public agreed that Congress’ special exemption was wrong and should be overturned.
So what’s up with these GOP Senators who oppose Sen. Vitter’s efforts?
Says Sen. Flake, for example, “I just think we ought to be treated like everybody else.”
That’s a noble sentiment, Senator. Of course, being “treated like everybody else,” presumably, means you would like to live under the law you and your colleagues enacted – that’s the conclusion one reasonably draws when she reads a Senator saying he wants “to be treated like everybody else.”
In America, after all, no man is above the law, and that means Congress must live under the same laws it imposes on the rest of us. It matters not whether you personally voted for that law, or against it; it passed, and was signed into law, and is now the law of the land – at least until it is repealed, an outcome we want to make happen. For you to “be treated like everybody else” would mean that you, like everybody else who purchases insurance through the exchanges, would do so without benefit of employer subsidies.
And that’s exactly what Sen. Vitter is demanding, so why are you opposing him?
Perhaps more ironic is the quote attributed to Sen. Ayotte, who explained her vote against Sen. Vitter’s request by saying, “I thought there were better uses for the Small Business Committee.” Well, Senator Ayotte, seeing as how Congress’ declaration that it is a small business is an essential element of the subterfuge required to continue the illegal subsidy flow, what do you think is a better use of the committee?
The quote that angers me most, however, is attributed to Sen Collins: “Virtually all large employers subsidize the health insurance of their employees, and I don’t see a basis for taking away the standard employer contribution to health insurance benefits for Members of Congress or their staffs. It’s that simple.”
Really, Sen. Collins? You “don’t see a basis” for taking away the “standard employer contribution?” How about … the law? See Section 1512, mentioned above. Yours would have been an appropriate response five and a half years ago, while the proposed law was being debated. But that decision was made, and it went against you – see the plain language of Section 1312. And while we’re at it, you’re talking about “large employers.” But Congress declared itself a small business so that it could enroll in the D.C. small business exchange, so it could continue the illegal subsidies. In fact, that (false) application is the exact subject of Sen. Vitter’s subpoena request. Pay attention, Sen. Collins.
Clearly, not a single one of the GOP Senators quoted in the Politico piece have read the Affordable Care Act. And neither have their staffs. (Ironically, these are the very staffs Members say they are so afraid of losing to higher-paying jobs on K Street if they lose their illegal subsidies.) How else to explain their clear disregard for the law itself?
Ultimately, they should do the right thing – exempt not just themselves, but all of America from this law. They can do that by repealing it. In the meantime, they must live under the law.
For decades now, the largest political gap in this nation has not been the gap between Republicans and Democrats, nor even that between conservatives and liberals – it has been the gap between the Washington Ruling Class on the one hand, and the rest of us who pay for them on the other. And no issue provides a contrast as stark as Congress’ special exemption. When Republicans on Capitol Hill don’t get that, and won’t act to overturn the special exemption, they provide fuel to fire the anger of those who insist there’s no difference between Republicans and Democrats. That’s not a good place to be as a crucial presidential election kicks into gear.
Jenny Beth Martin is co-founder and CEO of Tea Party Patriots