In his September 16 commentary, the usually erudite and accurate John Fund adds to confusion about Obamacare by reporting incorrectly that Congress has exempted itself from the monstrosity. The truth: The Grassley amendment to the Affordable Care Act ended eligibility of members of Congress and staff for the existing federal health-care program, which, like the retirement plan, has been exactly the same health-insurance program all federal employees receive.
Like all currently insured Americans, congressional personnel are wondering, “What happened to the presidential promise that anyone who liked their health insurance would be able to keep it?”
Even worse, on September 20, Senator David Vitter, (R., La.), took to NRO and compounded the widespread misconception. “A specific provision of the health-care law says that members of Congress and their staffs are required to procure their health-care coverage on the Obamacare exchange,” the senator wrote, “just like millions of Americans.” Yes, but only those Americans who are uninsured, a small minority. Members of Congress and staff are already like the vast majority of Americans in getting their health insurance through their employer, but that’s what this provision takes away.
Senator Vitter misses the point, as did John Fund. All Americans still have the right to an employer contribution to their health-care insurance. That is, Senator Vitter is saying, all Americans except members of Congress and their staffs. Not only did Congress not exempt itself, it took itself out of the system used by federal employees — denying themselves and their personal staffs health-insurance rights available to all others.
Through this year, Congress participated in (but next year will lose) exactly the same health-care insurance coverage as any classified federal employee, including park rangers in the U.S. Forest Service, disaster responders with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and meat inspectors at the Department of Agriculture.
Uncharacteristically associating themselves with class-warfare tactics, Fund and Vitter perpetuate the political myth that members of Congress made sure, in the former’s words, that we will not have to “get insurance the same way the little people do.” To the contrary, all members of Congress, their staff, and their families on January 1, 2014 actually will lose all accrued rights under the standard Federal Employee Health Benefit Program. Only those members and office staff who resign by December 31 of the current year can take the health-care coverage for which all federal employees are eligible into retirement.
Of course, to garner the support of federal employee unions, the White House and Congress under Democrat leadership exempted from Obamacare all other federal employees and even the career staff of congressional committees. That means members of Congress and their own staffs are the only federal employees not exempt from Obamacare, even if we opposed it.
Where is the outrage that all executive-branch officials and even congressional committee staff who wrote and now will administer the laws imposing Obamacare on America are exempted from it?
When confronted with the reality that Congress is not exempt, purveyors of political fabrication knowingly allege Congress will get special privileges under an Office of Personnel Management directive. The OPM proposed rule would allow Congress to continue to pay an employer contribution to cover a portion of health-insurance premiums for members and staff who, beginning in 2014, will be required to participate in the Obamacare exchanges. It is not true that Congress is the only employer that will be making a contribution to Obamacare coverage. Small businesses next year also will be allowed to provide employer contributions to health-insurance premiums under Obamacare. Employer contributions for premiums for larger companies will be permitted in later years.
Senator Grassley has confirmed that his amendment singling out members of Congress and their office staff for denial of the health care all other federal employees receive was not intended to end employer contributions for premiums in the case of members and congressional staff forced to participate in Obamacare. Of course, it is easier to distort truth than it is to clarify that millions of other American employers will be able to make employer contributions to health-care premiums, just as Congress historically has done under the federal health-care program that will continue for all federal officials and employees except members of Congress and their office staff.
Thus, it is dead wrong to suggest that Congress and member staff will not be getting our health insurance “the same way as the little people.” Indeed, if my friend John Fund and Senator Vitter want to make the case for “sameness” for Congress and those they see as “little people,” then they should argue in favor of employer premium contributions for Congress, or in the alternative for elimination of employer contribution for all Americans participating in Obamacare exchanges.
They can’t have it both ways: upholding employer contributions as fair for millions of other Americans but arguing that Congress should be denied employer contributions even though we too are being dumped into Obamacare.
A logical position would be to advocate that all federal employees (not just some) participate in Obamacare. If that is unacceptable to the federal employee unions because Obamacare is the slow-motion train wreck those of us who opposed it predicted, then the misbegotten plan should be delayed or better yet repealed for all Americans.
— Dana Rohrabacher represents the 48th district of California in the U.S. Congress.