WASHINGTON — U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid upped the ante Tuesday in the Democrats’ feud with Sen. David Vitter.
Reid went to the Senate floor to say it was “hypocritical and mean-spirited” of Louisiana’s junior senator to want to force congressional staff to pay the full expense of their health care coverage.
Vitter, R-La., last week and this week is stalling any Senate legislation from progressing until he receives a vote on his proposal to require that members of Congress, their staffs and the president have to acquire health insurance through exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act without receiving federal employee subsidies.
Vitter has called it hypocritical that members of Congress and their staffs were given a “special deal” last month by the Obama administration to continue receiving federal employer contributions toward their existing health insurance coverage.
Reid, D-Nev., said Vitter and other Republicans must stop trying to prevent the Affordable Care Act from being implemented and that they need to “grow up” and “stop denying reality.”
“Although Sen. Vitter has happily allowed the federal government to pay for part of his health care for years, he wants 16,000 congressional staffers to foot the whole bill,” Reid said Tuesday. “It’s time for Sen. Vitter to help us improve the law of the land.”
Reid argued that congressional staffers and other federal workers are being treated just like millions of other Americans who have larger employers contributing to their health insurance costs.
Reid said that members of Congress have the choice to opt their staffs out of their federal health plans and he encouraged them to do so if that is what they want. Vitter said last week that he plans to do so if his proposal fails.
Vitter is asking for a U.S. Senate vote prior to Oct. 1 on his “Obamacare” legislation. Currently, Vitter is blocking a Senate energy bill from proceeding. He is seeking either a vote on his proposal as an amendment or as standalone legislation.
The Affordable Care Act originally was written to require that congressional members and their staffs get their insurance through the exchanges without federal subsidies.
But a federal rule issued last month made it optional for lawmakers and their employees to continue receiving the subsidized premium health benefits plans just like most large businesses.
Members of Congress and applicable congressional staff will not be eligible for premium tax credits for exchange plans, but the proposed rule clarifies that the participants will continue to have an employer contribution toward their health insurance premiums, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
Once the effects of the law were realized, Vitter said, “That’s when a lot of scurrying started and a lot of teeth gnashing” by both Republicans and Democrats to reach a “special exemption.”
The federal rule change announced last month is wrong and “clearly illegal,” Vitter said.
“What’s good for America has to be what’s good for Washington,” Vitter said.
Last week, Democratic leadership drew up draft legislation that would bring up Vitter’s 2007 prostitution scandal in which he admitted to committing a “serious sin.”
The draft legislation would deny lawmakers their health care government contributions if there is “probable cause” they solicited prostitutes.
Vitter responded by criticizing Reid for reportedly floating the measure and accusing him of “acting like an old-time Vegas mafia thug, and a desperate one at that.”
Vitter on Friday then sent a letter to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics asking that Reid and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., be investigated for tying legislation to a specific senator’s actions or votes.
“This is attempted bribery, and the exact sort of behavior that the Senate Ethics Committee has previously condemned,” Vitter wrote.
“Senator Vitter has manufactured a bizarre and phony attack that demeans the Senate,” Boxer responded.
Boxer is the chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and Vitter is the committee’s top-ranking Republican. They started the year working well together, but their clashes have heated up more in recent weeks.
Reid said Tuesday that he is attempting to reach a deal for a set list of amendment votes on the energy bill, which could potentially include Vitter’s Obamacare amendment. “We can’t go on forever with unrelated amendments,” Reid said.
“I welcome that path forward,” Vitter later said of Reid’s comments on amendments.
But Vitter is pushing for a more open-ended amendment process, including his amendment that is not considered germane, or related, to the energy bill.
Vitter then went to Twitter though to “guess” Reid will “never get a vote agreement, and he’s just disguising his fear.”
U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, also announced that he will support a House version of Vitter’s Obamacare proposal. Regardless, Cassidy said he will stop accepting his federal contributions for health care.
“Members of Congress, having imposed Obamacare on the American people, now want to evade its mandates,” Cassidy stated. “If middle-class families have to face higher premiums because of the law, then so should politicians.”
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