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Another Obamacare argument in Congress, another opportunity to use congressional staff as political pawns. At least, that's what some senators are doing. Chief Obamacare hater Ted Cruz falls into the former camp, announcing today that he will put all of his staff members on the exchanges because he doesn't want to pick "winners and losers" on his staff. Meaning that any staff member who has to go on the exchanges is a "loser."

The problem of who should be put on the exchanges and who should keep their federal health insurance dates back to 2010, when Sen. Chuck Grassley introduced an amendment to Obamacare. The Grassley amendment mandates that all lawmakers and their staff go on the exchanges, so that they have a personal stake in the efficacy of the health care law. Grassley aimed to call Democrats' bluff with the measure, but it ended up passing with bipartisan support.

But the amendment doesn't actually mandate that all staff members go on the exchanges. A chief administrative officer of the House explained to members of Congress on Tuesday that personal staff should go on the exchanges, and other "unofficial" staff, like workers who are paid through congressional committee budgets, can stay on the federal plan like all other federal workers.

Democratic Rep. Rob Andrews explained to Politico, "Most members are going to opt to have their employees go to the exchanges — that’s the best reading of the rule. You’re either official or you’re not. If you’re official, you play by the rules. I just don’t think many members are going to opt for this unofficial status."

It seems like most members of Congress are confused. The Democrats haven't come up with a single strategy — despite what Andrews said, fellow Democrat Sen. Tim Johnson is letting all of his staff stay on the federal plan. That leaves conservative Republicans like Cruz and Sen. John Coryn to make a statement by placing their entire staffs on the exchanges. Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier noted, "We didn’t think it appropriate to pick winners and losers within our own office based on an arbitrary status." Similarly, Cruz's speechwriter Amanda Carpenter tweeted out a challenge to Democrats:

Well, your move, Harry Reid. If Cruz has his way, all congressional staff members will "lose." 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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