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“Vitter’s Mind-Boggling Obamacare Crusade”: Cutting Benefits For Congressional Staffers Could Have Real Consequences

For those who oppose President Barack Obama’s health care reform law, there’s a lot to campaign against. Many of the arguments in the health care debate arise from differences in philosophy and opinion about the future of health care in this country. For example, there’s the ongoing discussion over the appropriate size of the federal government’s role in the provision of health insurance.

Some arguments, however, are mind boggling. One Republican senator’s recent campaign seems to fall in this category.

For about two years, Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana has been on a mission to eliminate the employer subsidy that members of Congress and their staffs receive to buy their health insurance. Thanks to a provision added on to the Affordable Care Act during its consideration, members of Congress and their staffs are required, for the most part, to get their health insurance from the exchanges established by the new law. According to Politico, a ruling by the White House allowed members and staffers to retain the employer health insurance subsidy that they had been receiving before the changes in the Affordable Care Act took effect. Vitter objects to the ruling and claims that it effectively gives Congress an “exemption” from the law.

Although Vitter’s effort may be a good talking point, from a policy perspective, it doesn’t make sense. The senator is clearly approaching the issue from the standpoint of good government and making sure that Congress adheres to the laws it passes for the rest of the nation. However, if he is successful, his efforts will not make government better and they will not make Obamacare better or prove a weakness in the law. All he will accomplish is putting a thorn in the side of the staffers who work hard to make Congress run.

For most staffers, the loss of the subsidy would result in a substantial pay cut. As a former congressional staffer myself, I know that’s a cut many won’t be able to afford. Further, the White House’s actions didn’t give congressional staff a new benefit, nor did it “exempt” them from the Affordable Care Act. They are still required to purchase their insurance from the exchange. Additionally, as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., pointed out to Politico, Congressional staff “aren’t getting anything that any government workers don’t get.” Or anyone else who works for a large employer, for that matter. Under the health care law, employees of large employers still receive health care subsidized by their employer. Members of Congress and their staff should be treated the same way.

It’s also possible that the senator’s efforts, if successful, could hurt Congress. Faced with a significant reduction in benefits, many staff would probably choose to leave the hill and recruiting for their replacements would become more difficult. Less effective Congressional staff ultimately means a less effective Congress and, at the end of the day, that only hurts the country further. Although it may seem a bit intangible for people outside of Washington, Vitter’s drive to eliminate health care subsidies for members of Congress and their staffers has real consequences for the people who serve the institution and their families. The crusade should be dropped. There are more important things to do than take health care away from government workers.

 

By: Cary Gibson, Government Relations Consultant, Prime Policy Group; Thomas Jefferson Street Blog, U. S. News and World Report, May 15, 2015

May 18, 2015 - Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Congressional Staffers, David Vitter | , , , , , ,

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