The Stupid Party

September 30, 2013

Word on the street is that today House Republicans will pass a bill that would keep non-essential government functions open until mid-December, delay ObamaCare for one year, but not block the illegal ObamaCare exemption President Obama’s Office of Personnel Management granted to members of Congress and their staff. If Republicans fail to include language blocking that exemption, they truly deserve the moniker of The Stupid Party.

ObamaCare blocks members of Congress and their staffs from participating in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program where most of them now purchase health insurance, and thereby denies them the “contribution” the federal government had been making toward their premiums. Starting in 2014, members and staff must obtain coverage either through an ObamaCare Exchange or whatever other options that can scrape together. The purpose of this provision was to ensure that members and staff would experience ObamaCare the same way the rest of the country does – so that just in case the law is a disaster, Congress will have to suffer just like everybody else. Since ObamaCare is throwing lots of Americans out of their prior health coverage, and causing lots of people to take pay cuts due to job losses and reduced hours, so far, so good.

Naturally, members don’t like the way ObamaCare is treating them and people about whom they care. By all accounts, members are extremely agitated about the impact on their staffs. But because Democrats don’t want to repeal the entire law, and neither Republicans nor Democrats want to get caught giving themselves an ObamaCare exemption that others don’t get, a coalition of Republican and Democratic members begged the president for a special exemption. For his part, President Obama didn’t want Congress to reopen the law, so he obliged. His administration announced that OPM will make the same “contribution” to each member and staffer’s Exchange premiums that it made to their FEHBP premiums, despite having absolutely no statutory authority to do so. And thus the political class set itself above the people it governs. The administration’s defenders, like Uwe Reinhardt, note that ObamaCare says “absolutely nothing” about whether OPM can continue to make those payments. Exactly. If Congress has not authorized those payments, OPM cannot make them. Moreover, no one else who works for a large employer may receive a tax-free “contribution” from their employer toward their Exchange premiums. Why should members and staff enjoy such privilege, when the law doesn’t provide for it and allowing it would fly in the face of this provision’s purpose?

This issue gives ObamaCare opponents tremendous leverage, if they are willing to use it. Senate Democrats are likely to strip a one-year delay of ObamaCare’s major provisions from the House Republicans’ “continuing resolution.” But few Democrats would dare to strike a provision blocking the OPM rule. Heather Higgins and Bill Pascoe write, “92 percent of the public does not think it is right that Congress and their staff are letting the Obama administration exempt them from the costs of Obamacare.” Moreover, “with a minimal push, the issue makes inroads even [against incumbents] most analysts thought beyond reach.” In other words, if the House Republicans’ CR blocks Congress’ ObamaCare exemption, then either vulnerable Senate Democrats will vote to preserve it, or they will be turned out by voters. If the Senate preserves it, which is likely, then even more Senate Democrats will be accept a one-year delay so that Congress can work out some arrangement that eliminates this pay cut for members and staff while providing equivalent relief to average Americans.

Unfortunately, House Republicans appear unwilling to tap their greatest source of leverage. I wish I could say that failure is inexplicable. But the reason is obvious. House Republicans got their ObamaCare fix, and (for now) that is more important to them than saving the rest of the country from this law. President Obama’s “OPM rule” is an attempt to buy their votes, and it appears those votes are for sale. They must not be thinking about what their base will do to them.

It’s great that House Republicans are sending the Senate a bill delaying ObamaCare for a year. Why don’t they want it to pass?

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