“Every powerful group in America seems to get an exemption and the latest is Washington. ... Congress and all of Washington should live by the same rules.” Sen. David Vitter, R-La.
WASHINGTON — Sen. David Vitter unveiled Tuesday his legislation to require that congressional staffers, members of Congress and even the president acquire their health insurance through exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act.
The health-care law was originally written to require that congressional members and their staffs get their insurance through the exchanges. 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.
Vitter, R-La., said Tuesday it is outrageous for lawmakers and congressional staffers to not have to participate in the Obamacare law that Congress and President Barack Obama created.
“Every powerful group in America seems to get an exemption and the latest is Washington,” Vitter said, arguing that “Congress and all of Washington should live by the same rules.”
Vitter contended that the Obama administration’s Office of Personnel Management was pressured by congressional leaders — Democrats and Republicans — to offer exceptions.
He questioned the so-called “brain drain” that some lawmakers were concerned — that a lack of a fix — would end up as a pay cut for many lower-paid congressional staffers. Vitter called the concern “wildly overstated.” If some of those same staffers helped to originate Obamacare, Vitter said, “We can afford some of that drain.”
Vitter is cosponsoring the proposed law change with Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.
Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., is sponsoring a similar proposal in the House as an amendment to a planned budget stopgap needed to avoid a partial government shutdown at the end of the month.
Vitter said the budget stopgap, called a continuing resolution, should either force everyone into the health-care exchanges through his plan or defund the Affordable Care in order to delay it for at least a year.
A hard-line stance on the latter is expected to lead to a government shutdown because Democrats and the president are not likely to agree to it.
DeSantis agreed with Vitter and argued that the proposal is a challenge to GOP lawmakers not to accept Obama’s “executive overreach” to help them and their staffs.
“If you want to get your special deal, then you have to give everyone a one-year relief,” DeSantis said.
If the proposal fails, Vitter said he would still choose to get his insurance through the health-care exchanges and require his staff and committee staffers to do the same. “If it’s up to me, then we’re all going on the exchange,” Vitter said.
The Louisiana senator acknowledged that the legislation is not making him more popular with his congressional colleagues, noting that some complaints have gone beyond muffled mutterings. He said there has been “some yelling beyond their normal speaking voices.”
Vitter likened the hostile environment to when he successfully pushed for term limits in the Louisiana Legislature and upset many state lawmakers.
Enzi said that Obama should welcome the proposal.
“You’d think if the bill is named after you, you’d want to be named after it,” Enzi said.