The Widdershins

Archive for October 2nd, 2013

demons of stupdityOkay this is a little bit dated now, but does come into play with the government shutdown over Obamacare.

David Vitter, the junior Senator from La, got his diaper twisted into a wad because the Office of Personnel Management decided that congress critters and their staff could receive a subsidy from the government when the folks went onto the exchanges to purchase health care insurance.  Before Obamacare went into effect, the critters, along with their staffs purchased their insurance through the Federal Employees Benefit program.  It’s the same program that federal employees use to obtain their health insurance, or not, as they choose.  Like most any large employer, the federal government contributed a portion of the costs of the premiums for the employees, whether it was the most powerful of Senators, the Prez, the Veep or a lowly file clerk at a federal office in Butte Montana.

When Obamacare was being created, the critters decided that if it was going to be foisted on “the American People”, then it should be good enough for each and every critter, the Prez and Veep and every congressional staffer and they too should have to get their health insurance there.  The one glaring problem with this reasoning is that Obamacare was designed and created mainly for small businesses and individuals, not one of the largest employers in the country.  So then the next thing that occurred was that the critters and staff got worried and wondered if they would have to foot the entire bill for their health care because a lot of them were not going to be getting subsidies for premiums based on their income.  Well, call it a miracle, or what have you, but OPM decided that yes, the critters and staff could and would be entitled to a subsidy from their employer, the Federal government, for their healthcare purchases on the exchange.

The problem was rooted in the original text of the Affordable Care Act. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) inserted a provision which said members of Congress and their aides must be covered by plans “created” by the law or “offered through an exchange.” Until now, OPM had not said if the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program could contribute premium payments toward plans on the exchange. If payments stopped, lawmakers and aides would have faced thousands of dollars in additional premium payments each year. Under the old system, the government contributed nearly 75 percent of premium payments.

There was a certain sense of urgency, too, since enrollment in the exchanges was set to begin Oct. 1. There were discussions of a legislative fix — attaching language to a must-pass bill to fix the problem. But that would’ve been too difficult in today’s paralyzed Washington.

White House officials acknowledged that a fix was needed. But they knew that once they dealt with it through a regulation, some Republicans would use it against them – even though most of their party was privately obsessing over it.

At this point, enter David Vitter.  The good (bleh!) junior Senator decided he wanted to attach an amendment to an energy bill working its way through the Senate that would strip out the “subsidies” (I call them employer contributions) to the plans the Hill folk have to buy on the exchanges.

Vitter this week has blocked votes on amendments to a pending bipartisan energy efficiency bill until he gets a promise of a vote on his legislation requiring members, and their staffs to buy health insurance through exchanges being created under the Affordable Care Act. Under Vitter’s proposal, those purchases would come without the usual $5,000 to $11,000 government subsidy for federal health insurance. It would invalidate an Obama administration directive that members and staffs should, with some exceptions, purchase coverage from the exchanges, but with continued federal subsidies.

“Vitter said that his amendment would require members and their staffs, as well as the president, vice president and political appointees, to deal with the same arrangements being faced by many Americans under ObamaCare.”  I call bullshit on his words.  First of all, the ACA was designed with small businesses and individuals in mind.  That is not “many Americans” Dave.  Secondly, while there are 535 voting members of Congress, there are literally thousands of staffers and other employees on the Hill who are not earning $174,00 a year or more.  Those folks need the subsidies so that their health care costs do not jump astronomically on the exchanges.  While these folks aren’t making six figures, they probably do make enough that they would not qualify for subsidies based on income.

Now it’s not that often that I agree with Harry Reid but I do agree with him when he said:

“If Sen. Vitter opposes the employer contribution to congressional staffers, does he oppose it also for the 150 million other Americans whose employers help pay their health insurance premiums?” Reid asked.

Rather than exempting Capitol Hill, Reid said the subsidies treat lawmakers and their staff like the rest of U.S. citizens that have a portion of their premiums paid for by their employers.

Sadly, diaper Dave isn’t alone in this.  GOP Sens. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Dean Heller of Nevada, Mike Lee of Utah and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma are co-sponsors of Vitter’s amendment.

As I wrote above, I call bullshit on Vitter.  It’s not known widely outside of Louisiana, but it’s been strongly rumored that Vitter intends to run for governor in 2015 when Bobby Jindal’s second term is over. (YAY!!  No mo’ lil Bobby!)  And it makes sense that he would decide to run for guv.  Despite his surviving the prostitute scandal, he won’t ever rise very far in the Senate Republican leadership.  Before the energy efficienty bill got shelved due to the government shutdown, the Dems in the Senate were getting ready to possibly play nasty with Dave over…let’s call it hooker-gate.

But Democratic senators are preparing a legislative response targeting a sordid Vitter episode. If Vitter continues to insist on a vote on his proposal, Democrats could counter with one of their own: Lawmakers will be denied those government contributions if there is “probable cause” they solicited prostitutes.

According to draft legislation obtained by POLITICO, Democrats are weighing whether to force a Senate vote on a plan that would effectively resurrect Vitter’s past if the conservative Republican continues to press forward with his Obamacare-bashing proposal.

Naturally the tit for tat got pushed aside when the budget mess came to the fore, and the bill was shelved.  Sadly for Vitter and happily for us, as long as he’s in public service, images like this aren’t going away.

This is an open thread.

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