It’s called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. But members of Congress belatedly decided they couldn’t afford to comply with the requirements they mandated for nearly everybody else.
So congressional leaders sought and obtained an Obama administration edict assuring that they — and their staffs — would still get a sweet, taxpayer-backed, health-insurance deal.
This is despite the landmark legislation’s mandate that federal lawmakers and their staffers participate in newly created federal insurance exchanges.
The general concept of putting Congress into Obamacare, proposed by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, sounded worthy when the sweeping health care reform bill passed both Senate and House without a single Republican vote in 2010. After all, if Congress was going to overhaul the health care system for all Americans, it should have been willing to experience that same supposedly positive transformation.
But over the last few months, as the Jan. 1, 2014 deadline for congressional participation in Obamacare drew ever nearer, specifics about its rising costs to lawmakers and their staffers generated bipartisan alarm in both chambers.
Roughly 11,000 people — the 535 members of Congress and their more than 10,000 employees — were supposed to lose their Federal Employees Health Benefits Program insurance at year’s end and replace it with the “Medicaid Plus” plan from the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges. Because of their high salaries, nearly all of them would have been ineligible for the law’s subsidies — and so would have ended up with much higher insurance bills of their own.
As The Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot wrote in a column published Monday: “The result was a full wig out on Capitol Hill, with members of both parties fretting about ‘brain drain’ as staff face higher health-care costs. Democrats in particular begged the White House for help.”
That frantic group included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. In 2010, as House speaker, she infamously said of the 2,700-plus-page health reform package: “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what’s in it.”
Yet after Rep. Pelosi found out how much more her staff members’ insurance would cost, she warned last week of immense “collateral damage” via an exodus of “a tremendous intellectual resource” from the public to the private sector.
The White House, evidently heeding that dubious appeal, assigned the Office of Personnel Management to ease the financial blow to our national legislators and their allegedly indispensable staff talent. And as Reuters reported, OPM issued a ruling Wednesday allowing them to “continue to receive a federal contribution” of roughly 75 percent of premium costs in the exchange program.
The administration has made a habit of easing big shots’ Obamacare pain. Big Business and Big Labor are heavily represented among the more than 1,500 entities that have been exempted from the law. Now Big Government is, too.
Meanwhile, though, many regular folks, including owners of small businesses already struggling through a “jobless” recovery, are desperately trying to decipher the law’s fast-approaching, bewildering and potentially ruinous regulations.
But members of Congress didn’t even have to vote on cutting themselves their Obamacare break. Instead, the administration simply decreed it.
Imagine the uproar if Mitt Romney had won last year’s presidential election, then selectively granted such high-stakes waivers — and not just to federal lawmakers — by executive fiat.
Back to Mr. Gigot: “The White House is once again rewriting the law unilaterally, much as it did by suspending Obamacare’s employer mandate for a year. For this White House, the law it wrote is a mere suggestion.”
And for this White House, granting Congress an exemption from this unaffordable law is just more of the double-standard same.