Tomorrow, the Senate will begin an open-ended process called vote-a-rama. At the end of that process, Senate Republican leaders reportedly hope to build consensus around a slimmed down bill that repeals only a handful of Obamacare’s most unpopular provisions. There is no doubt that a “skinny repeal” of Obamacare would be an underwhelming response to skyrocketing premiums, narrowing networks and disappearing insurers.
To incentivize lawmakers and their staff to expand that myopic view of the art of the possible, the skinny repeal should include an amendment to repeal an Obama-era rule that exempts most congressional staff from the full brunt of Obamacare.
In 2009, as Senate Democrats prepared to pass Obamacare on Christmas Eve, there was tremendous public pressure to ensure lawmakers and their staff were required to participate in the new system. Section 1312(d)(3)(D) of the bill ultimately included a provision that required them to buy health insurance through the Obamacare exchange without an employer contribution toward their premiums.
Before lawmakers and their staff were required to leave the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) in 2014 and enroll in Obamacare, Barack Obama’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM) declared the previous FEHBP premium subsidies would in fact be available to congressmen enrolling in the Obamacare exchange.
The Heritage Foundation’s Robert E. Moffit, Ph.D., called it “a bold move, even for Team Obama.” Moffit explained:
“Not only did the original statutory language fail to provide insurance subsidies, but OPM also had no authority under Chapter 89 of Title 5 of the U.S. Code to provide FEHBP subsidies to non-FEHBP plans.”
It wasn’t just an exemption for lawmakers, though. “The scheme then went from the bold to the ridiculous,” recalled Moffit. Specifically:
In the FEHBP, under Section 8901(6) of Title V, the health plans must be “group” plans. So, no problem: OPM certified the DC SHOP exchange, reserved for firms with fewer than fifty employees, as the health insurance exchange for Congress.
All Congress had to do was to somehow turn itself into a small business, with fewer than fifty employees. And, incredibly, that is exactly what unnamed congressional bureaucrats did: They submitted paperwork identifying each chamber of Congress as a small business, employing forty-five people apiece.
Last week, dozens of conservative groups — including Heritage Action for America — signed a letter urging him “to direct the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to rescind the Obama-era rule (78 Fed. Reg. 60653-01) that allows Congress to masquerade as a small business in order to force taxpayers to pay for their health insurance.”
The president would be wise to move forward with that directive, but those executive deliberations do not excuse legislative inaction. As the fledgling health care debate plays out this week, United States Senators should seize the opportunity to save taxpayer money and reverse the Obama administration’s costly and unconstitutional ruling.
Fortunately, that process is well underway. Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) is championing efforts in the House and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) submitted an amendment earlier this week to the Senate health care bill that would further clarify existing law, and direct Trump’s OPM to overturn its 2013-era guidance. And because of the open-ended amendment process looming, there is no way for senators to block a vote on Johnson’s amendment.
With the long-promised goal of repealing Obamacare and providing relief from the failing law slowly slipping away because of liberal intransigence, senators should finally subject themselves to the same burdens imposed upon their constituents. Maybe then they would come around to begin delivering on their longstanding promise.