The President intervenes to give Members and staff a break.
August 5, 2013 | Wall Street Journal –– To adapt H.L. Mencken, nobody ever went broke underestimating the cynicism and self-dealing of the American political class. Witness their ad-libbed decision, at the 11th hour and on the basis of no legal authority, to create a special exemption for themselves from the ObamaCare health coverage that everybody else is mandated to buy.
The Affordable Care Act requires Members of Congress and their staffs to participate in its insurance exchanges, in order to gain first-hand experience with what they’re about to impose on their constituents. Harry Truman enrolled as the first Medicare beneficiary in 1965, and why shouldn’t the Members live under the same laws they pass for the rest of the country?
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That was the idea when Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley proposed the original good-enough-for-thee, good-enough-for-me amendment in 2009, and the Finance Committee unanimously adopted his rule. Declared Chairman Max Baucus, “I’m very gratified that you have so much confidence in our program that you’re going to be able to purchase the new program yourself and I’m confident too that the system will work very well.”
Harry Reid revised the Grassley amendment when he rammed through his infamous ObamaCare bill that no one had read for a vote on Christmas eve. But he neglected to include language about what would happen to the premium contributions that the government makes for its employees. Whether it was intentional or not, the fairest reading of the statute as written is that if Democrats thought somebody earning $174,000 didn’t deserve an exchange subsidy, then this person doesn’t get a subsidy merely because he happens to work in Congress.
But the statute means that about 11,000 Members and Congressional staff will lose the generous coverage they now have as part of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP). Instead they will get the lower-quality, low-choice “Medicaid Plus” of the exchanges. The Members—annual salary: $174,000—and their better paid aides also wouldn’t qualify for ObamaCare subsidies. That means they could be exposed to thousands of dollars a year in out-of-pocket insurance costs.
The result was a full wig out on Capitol Hill, with Members of both parties fretting about “brain drain” as staff face higher health-care costs. Democrats in particular begged the White House for help, claiming the Reid language was merely an unintentional mistake. President Obama told Democrats in a closed-door meeting last week that he would personally moonlight as HR manager and resolve the issue.