A growing number of congressional Republicans believe GOP leadership in the House and Senate will inevitably embrace a proposal spearheaded by Senator David Vitter to end a special Obamacare subsidy for congressional staffers.
Vitter will try to add it as an amendment to the government-funding bill under consideration in the Senate, and Speaker John Boehner is considering trying to force the issue when the bill comes back to the House.
“It’s an issue that’s not going away. And I think the speaker, to his credit, he recognizes that,” said Representative Ron DeSantis of Flordia, who is leading the fight in the House and closely coordinating with Vitter.
Under Obamacare, members of Congress and their staffs were required to purchase health insurance in the exchange markets. Last month, after President Obama personally intervened in the matter, the Office of Personnel Management decided the federal government will continue to subsidize staffers’ health insurance at the cost of thousands of dollars per year per employee. “They’re going to be the only people in America who get these subsidies,” DeSantis says.
But the proposal to end the subsidies is highly unpopular on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers and staff have balked at the hit to their incomes Vitter’s proposal would entail. As National Review Online reported, the issue exploded at a closed-door meeting of the House Republican conference last week, with several GOP lawmakers complaining about the financial impact of the proposed change.
And proponents believe the push faces a new threat from a similar effort by Senator Rand Paul to force all federal employees to purchase health care on the exchanges. Vitter, DeSantis, and others believe Paul’s proposal would be vastly easier for Democrats to vote against, making it unlikely to be enacted into law.
Currently, Vitter’s proposal would also require the president, vice president, cabinet appointees, and White House staff to purchase health insurance on the exchanges, a broadening of current law. He is also considering expanding the requirement to Supreme Court justices.
The report of the House conference meeting last week has turned into something of a rallying cry for proponents. Representative Phil Gingrey, a proponent of ending the subsidy, said that young staffers complaining about the hit on their wallets should remember that many of them will soon be able to cash-out on “K Street” as lobbyists making “$500,000″ a year, ruing that he is “stuck here making $172,000 a year.” Gingrey’s comments are now being used to demonstrate how “out of touch” Congress is, underscoring the need to end the subsidy.
Ben Sasse, a Republican Senate candidate in Nebraska, seized on the remarks in a YouTube video that was linked to on the Drudge Report Monday. “One congressman actually complained that he might not be able to afford to pay his Obamacare premiums because he is ’stuck’ making only $172,000 a year. Could these people be any more out of touch?” Sasse says. That said, Gingrey wants to end the subsidy, not continue it, and his net worth is at least $3 million, making it unlikely that he is concerned about being able to afford the cost himself.