WASHINGTON — On a day where little was accomplished in Congress, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., on criticized some House Republicans on Tuesday for causing the shutdown, while Sen. David Vitter’s “No Washington exemption” amendment took center stage.
The proposed House majority’s proposal included Vitter’s amendment to force Congress, their staffers and the president to lose their employer contributions for health insurance and buy plans on the health care exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act.
A House vote for Tuesday night on the plan was cancelled shortly after the self-described conservative Heritage Action group announced any Republican voting for the House proposal would be punished on “legislative scorecards.” The group argued the House proposal failed to do enough to delay or repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
President Barack Obama also reportedly told Democrats he would veto the Vitter amendment.
Earlier in the day, Vitter, R-La., took to the Senate floor to decry the “illegal” exemption created by the Obama administration to ensure that members of Congress and their staffers can continue to receive health insurance subsidies.
“Washington doesn’t want that,” Vitter said of his amendment. “It wants to impose new rules on the rest of America. It doesn’t want to live by them itself.”
When Vitter later learned of the possible Obama veto threat, he added, “Must be nice to be king.”
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., repeatedly questioned Vitter on his proposal, arguing it is a cruel punishment and pay cut for rank-and-file congressional staffers who work to serve the constituents.
The federal government pays a portion of health insurance costs for its employees much the same way private companies do for their employees.
“What a thanks to them (staffers) this is to say, ‘We’re going to eliminate the employer’s contribution for your health insurance. You’re on your own,’ ” Durbin said. “That’s what the senator from Louisiana wants to do.”
Separately, Landrieu hosted a Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee hearing with small-business owners to show the impacts that are occurring with the partial government shutdown.
“It’s much more than a pin prick,” Landrieu said. “It’s serious consequences.”
Landrieu said some GOP members of the Louisiana congressional delegation “seem gleeful” over continuing to use the shutdown and a potential government default in order to leverage in a “hostage” situation whatever concessions over Obamacare or anything else they can get.
“It’s outrageous. It’s shameful. It should not be happening,” Landrieu said.
Landrieu said Vitter is “part of that cabal” of Republican senators who have blocked — 21 times over six months — budget negotiations from proceeding between the House and Senate budget plans.
Joaneane Smith, the president of Global Commerce & Services information technology company in Avondale, said she used her property as collateral to start her business and that much of the work and revenues come from government contracts.
The money is cut off during the shutdown and there are “stop work orders” from the government, she said.
The employees are still being paid with much of the revenues cut off, Smith said, and that she may only be able to keep salaries and benefits flowing to employees for another two weeks or so.
New Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Rodney Alexander on Tuesday warned benefits, pensions and stipends for the state’s 300,000 or so veterans may be cut off in two weeks if the shutdown continues.
“Just as we plan for emergency situations like hurricanes and other disasters, Louisiana Veterans and their families would be wise to take immediate steps to prepare themselves for a loss of income due to suspension of Federal VA benefits,” Alexander said in the announcement.
“While we hope that a resolution will come before funds for Veterans are exhausted, we must prepare for the possibility that Veterans’ benefit payments will stop at the end of October.”
All of the Louisiana House delegation members — Reps. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge; Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson; John Fleming, R-Minden; Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette; and Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans — either declined or did not respond to interview requests Tuesday.