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Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Congress’s Exemption from Obamacare

Make Congress get insurance the same way the little people do? Hill denizens howl in fury.

The Senate may still have a reputation as a genteel club, but lawmakers seemed to abandon rules of decorum completely last week in arguments about whether Congress should be treated like the rest of the country when it comes to Obamacare.

Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, has demanded a floor vote on his bill to end an exemption that members of Congress and their staffs are slated to get that will make them the only participants in the new Obamacare exchanges to receive generous subsidies from their employer to pay for their health insurance. Angry Senate Democrats have drafted legislation that dredges up a 2007 prostitution scandal involving Vitter. The confrontation is a perfect illustration of just how wide the gulf in attitudes is between the Beltway and the rest of the country — and how viciously Capitol Hill denizens will fight for their privileges....

The Congressional Leadership Empire decided to strike back at Vitter. Politico reported that several Democratic senators have asked staff to draft legislation that would deny federal health subsidies to anyone who votes for the Vitter plan, even if Vitter’s plan doesn’t become law. An even more spiteful draft bill would bar subsidies to any lawmaker or aide found by a congressional ethics committee to have “engaged in the solicitation of prostitution.” In 2007, Vitter’s phone number was found in the records of the “D.C. Madam,” the owner of a high-end prostitution ring. Back then, Vitter held a news conference with his wife standing next to him and apologized for a “serious sin” that he refused to discuss further. He was reelected with 57 percent of the vote in 2010.

Vitter isn’t taking the attempts to strong-arm him quietly. “Harry Reid is acting like an old-time Vegas mafia thug, and a desperate one at that,” he said in a statement to Politico. He also wrote a letter to the Senate Ethics Committee demanding an investigation of Reid and Democratic senator Barbara Boxer of California. “Threatening to take away their colleagues’ health care coverage subsidy if they do not vote a certain way, at worst constitutes bribery and a quid pro quo arrangement, and at best amounts to improper conduct,” he wrote. Senator Reid’s office responded by calling Vitter’s charges “absurd and baseless.”

What Vitter’s opponents fear most is that this fight will penetrate the public’s consciousness. A new poll taken for Independent Women’s Voice, a conservative group, found that 92 percent of voters think Congress shouldn’t be exempted from the insurance provisions of Obamacare. Most voters blame both parties equally for the exemption, which means Republicans will also be hurt politically if it stands. “This is an issue with almost unprecedented intensity,” IWV president Heather Higgins told me. “Republicans have the choice of leading the Vitter parade for repeal or getting run over by it. To duck it will be viewed by their constituents as political malpractice.”

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