Is Congress above the law? by Brad Rigler - 08/27/2013
Even in our polarized political environment, most Americans can agree that our lawmakers should have to live by the laws they create. In this government for and by the people, our elected officials are granted limited powers, but not privileges above the people they serve.
Perhaps that’s why Republican Senator Chuck Grassley introduced his amendment to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). That amendment requires Congress and its staff to purchase their insurance through the exchanges the law creates.
Before Obamacare passed, Congress and staffers were covered through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program which contributed 75% toward the cost of their insurance. That contribution is asubsidy and Obamacare forbids employers from subsidizing their employees’ insurance inside exchanges.
As the law is written, Congress and its staff should no longer receive the 75% assistance and therefore have to pay for insurance entirely out of their own pocket.
Congress apparently didn’t realize this when they passed the law. But once they figured it out, Congress complained about losing the 75% subsidy and bellyached about having to buy more expensive insurance. They said the added expense would cause staffers to quit and the mass exodus would result in “brain drain” on Capitol Hill.
Earlier in August, Senate Democrats pressed President Obama on this issue; he reportedly told them “I’m working on it.”
A few days later the Office of Personal Management (OPM), which is the like the HR Department for federal employees, came to the rescue. The OPM decreed that unlike the general public, Congress and staff could continue to receive the 75% contribution. OPM even said that each individual congressional office could pick which staff had to participate in Obamacare, because of a loophole in how the government defines “staff.”
The Affordable Care Act does allow the President to grant waivers, which Obama has done 1200 times so far. But even though the deal was reportedly brokered by the President, the congressional “fix” was attributed to the OPM and therefore not officially a “waiver.”
Granting Congress a waiver would have been an embarrassment for the White House; and Congress voting themselves an exemption would’ve been political suicide. So the political class used the OPM to buffer themselves from direct responsibility, just as the move buffers Congress from feeling the full effect of Obamacare.
Officially, Congress still has to participate in the Affordable Care Act and buy their insurance through an exchange. That’s why some in Congress claim they aren’t exempt from Obamacare. They can even argue that because the OPM cannot grant exemptions, what Congress received isn’t by definition an exemption (although Senator Cornyn R-TX referred to it as an “Outrageous exemption for Congress”).
Congress is just arguing semantics in an attempt to hide the truth. But make no mistake, Congress enjoys a benefit on Obamacare that We the people do not. And Congress received that benefit as a result of the President’s influence over the OPM.
To be fair; both sides of the aisle are to blame. This wouldn’t have been possible without support from the Republican leadership. Either by their pushing for it, or by not pushing back against it.
We must contact our Congressional representatives in both the House and Senate and send a message to Washington. They need to be told that any policy, practice, plan or protocol that Congress and/or its staff enjoys in relation to Obamacare must be available to every American. That’s something we all should agree on, regardless of our opinion about the law itself.