During the government shutdown last fall, Sen. David Vitter's proposed amendment to remove subsidies from lawmakers' and their staffers' health care was a major point of contention, but ultimately it was dropped from negotiations. (It was reported that House SpeakerJohn Boehner secretly worked with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to maintain the subsidies.) Now, Vitter is bringing up his amendment again in an op-ed for Roll Call.
"I get it," he begins. "My legislation to end Washington’s Obamacare exemption or subsidy doesn't make me popular in Washington. But if you think it's going away, I have news for you: There's only one way to make that happen, and that's to pass it." Vitter continues:
The point is simple: Washington should have to experience Obamacare just like millions of Americans do. And millions have been forced onto the Obamacare exchanges against their will with no special deal or unique, ultra-generous subsidy. ... Make no mistake about it — this exemption and subsidy is an insider deal, cooked up to take the sting out of Obamacare for the Washington elite while our constituents suffer the full-body blow.
The above paragraph is especially disingenuous, for a few reasons. First, Congress and congressional staff were forced onto the Obamacare exchanges because of a Republican amendment. Normally, lawmakers and staffers on Capitol Hill would get health insurance from their employer, which happens to be the government. But Sen. Chuck Grassley came up with the idea in 2010 that everyone in Congress should go on the Obamacare exchanges so that lawmakers had a stake in the efficacy of the health care law. Eventually, the Grassley amendment passed with bipartisan support. Later, the Office of Personnel Management reasoned that lawmakers and staffers should still get employer contributions to their health insurance, just like any other American who gets insurance from his or her employer. So the employer contribution isn't a "unique, ultra-generous subsidy," it's a correction for the fact that lawmakers and staffers were forced onto the exchanges sooner than they should have been. Congressional employees will get the same contributions towards Obamacare that they used to get under their federal health insurance plans: $5,000 for individuals and $11,000 for families. If Vitter wants to call that ultra-generous, fine, but it's not some new, higher rate.