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The Obamacare Non-Exemption: Congressional employees are not receiving a “special handout.”
National Review ^ | 09/28/2013 | Patrick Brennan

Posted on 09/29/2013 7:17:03 AM PDT by SeekAndFind

The Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, has many problematic provisions. Right now one that affects a remarkably small number of Americans — members of Congress and their staff — is attracting a great deal of controversy. It is also causing a great deal of confusion.

The dispute has its origin in the debate over the law in 2010. Republican senator Chuck Grassley suggested an amendment intended to make Democrats balk: Members of Congress and their staff would have to buy their insurance from the health-care exchanges. The amendment explicitly said that the federal government should continue making the same employer contributions. It was not designed to cut employees’ benefits, but rather to make sure they had a stake in the quality and efficiency of the exchanges. Democrats actually accepted it, and put it into the eventually passed bill, but without the provision for employer contributions.

The law thus treats Congress and its staff substantially differently than all other Americans. Many Americans who now get insurance coverage from their employer may end up having to go on the exchanges; but only congressional employees are actually forced onto them, with the option of an employer plan prohibited by law. In the private sector, some of the savings from ending employer plans can go to higher wages, which employees can use to buy insurance from the exchanges. (Though that contribution will probably be after-tax earnings, rather than the pre-tax premium contributions employers make now.) It’s possible there will be exceptions, but for the most part the market simply won’t allow companies to cut an employee’s compensation by as much as yanking away their entire employer health-care contribution amounts to.

While Trader Joe’s, for instance, is discontinuing its health-insurance plan for part-time employees, the company will be giving each of them $500 a year — which sounds like a pittance, but when it is combined with the subsidies that low-wage employees like these will receive, coverage on the exchanges will actually cost most employees less out-of-pocket than what they got from their employer. There will be no such substitution in congressional offices, because the amendment does not increase the budget for legislative salaries. Some congressional employees would receive tax-credit subsidies on the individual market, like low-wage workers, but most would not.

When you hear about a “congressional exemption” from Obamacare, this refers to the fact that the Office of Personnel Management, part of the executive branch, has chosen to make up for this differential treatment by paying part of congressional employees’ health-care premiums on the new exchanges. They haven’t been “exempted” from the amendment that forces them onto the exchanges, in a way no other American is.

OPM decided to contribute the same amount to these exchanges that the government now spends on congressional employees’ health benefits ($5,000 for individuals, $11,000 for families). This decision was probably illegal, since Congress didn’t authorize funds for the plan, as Cato’s Michael Cannon explains.

Congressmen and their staff, then, are getting a questionable workaround from the law — but it’s from a provision of the law that treated them particularly badly rather than neutrally. The net result of the law and the workaround isn’t a “special handout” for congressional employees.

Senator David Vitter (R., La.) says that Congress should pass an amendment to do away with this supposed “exemption.” The law would actually layer another regulation onto Congress (and executive-branch appointees, too) that doesn’t apply to any other American, by preventing their employer from contributing to their health insurance.

The reason the White House provided its procedurally dodgy solution, which Vitter aims to address, is that passing a fix through Congress would probably be politically difficult. But unless you think every congressional employee’s salary should be cut by between $5,000 and $11,000 (or, alternatively, that they don’t deserve any employer contributions to their health-care coverage), you shouldn’t have a problem with your congressman voting for it. (For one, such a salary cut would make Congress more a place for well-off Americans than it already is.)

Senator Ted Cruz has actually suggested that the former’s amendment should be expanded to every employee of the federal government — from D.C. schoolteachers to much of the active-duty military. (Vitter says he opposes this because it is infeasible politically.)

The defense of the provision remaining as is — ending the federal contributions to Congress’s exchange premiums — relies on the idea that Congress (or literally almost all federal employees, as Cruz suggested) should suffer the worst possible effects of whatever federal law is passed. That’s a much more punitive intent than the original Grassley amendment had.

With the destructive effects of Obamacare looming, this punishment may sound appealing. But do we really approve of the idea in other circumstances? Do we believe that Congress and its staffers should pay the highest marginal tax rates, regardless of income; that every congressman must have served in the military to vote to declare war; that congressional offices have to carry out any and all reporting requirements and regulations they impose on a particular industry; and so on? There are probably better ways to prevent Congress from passing bad laws.

The congressional staffers, D.C. teachers, and other federal employees Senator Cruz hopes to force onto the exchanges probably receive overly generous health-care benefits now. The executive branch’s fix doesn’t reduce them at all (for now); shifting them onto the exchanges might be a good time to move toward a less generous model. But people who happen to be paid by the federal treasury don’t deserve to have the entire value of their existing coverage stripped away, as almost no Americans will experience.

Nearly half the people in Congress have worked, and are still working, against Obamacare. Senator Vitter’s amendment proposes to cut their pay in order to make a point — a point based on a misunderstanding.

— Patrick Brennan is an associate editor at National Review.


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Government; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: congress; exemption; obamacare

1 posted on 09/29/2013 7:17:03 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
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To: SeekAndFind

“Do we believe that Congress and its staffers should pay the highest marginal tax rates, regardless of income; that every congressman must have served in the military to vote to declare war; that congressional offices have to carry out any and all reporting requirements and regulations they impose on a particular industry; and so on?”

YES! Then they might think twice about passing onerous laws and procedures...

They do work for us after all.


2 posted on 09/29/2013 7:25:25 AM PDT by jurroppi1
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Comment #3 Removed by Moderator

To: SeekAndFind

Is he looking for a job in the Obama Administration? (where all good journalists aspire to be)


4 posted on 09/29/2013 7:28:26 AM PDT by machogirl (First they came for my tagline)
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To: SeekAndFind
they don’t deserve any employer contributions to their health-care coverage

Correct.

NRO: Apologist for the welfare state.

Poor Bill Buckley must be rolling over in his grave.

5 posted on 09/29/2013 7:31:41 AM PDT by St_Thomas_Aquinas ( Isaiah 22:22, Matthew 16:19, Revelation 3:7)
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To: SeekAndFind

An employer plan expressly prohibited by law? Why do we have any law with such BS in it? How about goverment programs explicitly prohibited by law.


6 posted on 09/29/2013 7:31:52 AM PDT by DeWalt (Times are more like they used to be than they are today.)
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To: SeekAndFind

If it is truly NOT a special ‘handout’ then let’s just have the frigging IRS count it as REGULAR income and TAX the hell out of it like the do with the rest of us. Tax it until they squeal.


7 posted on 09/29/2013 7:32:36 AM PDT by Gaffer
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To: SeekAndFind

All citizens, especially federal employes and elected officials, should be governed by the same rules that apply to the genearal population.

Federal employes and elected officials should not receive any subsidies or waivers - only those that apply equally to everyone else.


8 posted on 09/29/2013 7:33:14 AM PDT by Iron Munro (When a killer screams 'Allahu Akbar' you don't need to be mystified about a motive.)
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To: Iron Munro

They are like the queers. They believe they are a special class of people.


9 posted on 09/29/2013 7:37:47 AM PDT by DeWalt (Times are more like they used to be than they are today.)
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To: All

"We're sick of those House peons sabotaging our perks, privileges and exemptions."

"Republican peasants!!"

"Obama has ruled that we Democrats are the Chosen Ones."

10 posted on 09/29/2013 7:40:49 AM PDT by Liz
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To: Liz

They truly are the ones they’ve been waiting for.


11 posted on 09/29/2013 7:45:19 AM PDT by DeWalt (Times are more like they used to be than they are today.)
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To: SeekAndFind

Leave it to the RINOs at NRO to come to the rescue on an issue that has Dems and the media petrified. I figured it would be McCain. But same species.

Bottom-line. I lost my private health insurance this year, after 20 years. And these clowns who wrote the law are going to get to keep their gold-plated plans subsidized up to 75% by taxpayers (many who are now without insurance that they once had).

All I can say is follow the money. Guarantee this guy has a family member working as a congressional staffer.


12 posted on 09/29/2013 7:46:04 AM PDT by nhwingut (This tagline is for lease)
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To: SeekAndFind
Let's review an excerpted portion of Madison's Federalist #57:

The Federalist No. 57

The Alleged Tendency of the New Plan to Elevate the Few at the Expense of the Many Considered in Connection with Representation

New York Packet
Tuesday, February 19, 1788
[James Madison]

To the People of the State of New York:

THE third charge against the House of Representatives is, that it will be taken from that class of citizens which will have least sympathy with the mass of the people, and be most likely to aim at an ambitious sacrifice of the many to the aggrandizement of the few.

Of all the objections which have been framed against the federal Constitution, this is perhaps the most extraordinary. Whilst the objection itself is levelled against a pretended oligarchy, the principle of it strikes at the very root of republican government.

The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust. The elective mode of obtaining rulers is the characteristic policy of republican government. The means relied on in this form of government for preventing their degeneracy are numerous and various. The most effectual one, is such a limitation of the term of appointments as will maintain a proper responsibility to the people.

Let me now ask what circumstance there is in the constitution of the House of Representatives that violates the principles of republican government, or favors the elevation of the few on the ruins of the many? Let me ask whether every circumstance is not, on the contrary, strictly conformable to these principles, and scrupulously impartial to the rights and pretensions of every class and description of citizens?

Who are to be the electors of the federal representatives? Not the rich, more than the poor; not the learned, more than the ignorant; not the haughty heirs of distinguished names, more than the humble sons of obscurity and unpropitious fortune. The electors are to be the great body of the people of the United States. They are to be the same who exercise the right in every State of electing the corresponding branch of the legislature of the State.

Who are to be the objects of popular choice? Every citizen whose merit may recommend him to the esteem and confidence of his country. No qualification of wealth, of birth, of religious faith, or of civil profession is permitted to fetter the judgement or disappoint the inclination of the people.

If we consider the situation of the men on whom the free suffrages of their fellow-citizens may confer the representative trust, we shall find it involving every security which can be devised or desired for their fidelity to their constituents.

In the first place, as they will have been distinguished by the preference of their fellow-citizens, we are to presume that in general they will be somewhat distinguished also by those qualities which entitle them to it, and which promise a sincere and scrupulous regard to the nature of their engagements.

In the second place, they will enter into the public service under circumstances which cannot fail to produce a temporary affection at least to their constituents. There is in every breast a sensibility to marks of honor, of favor, of esteem, and of confidence, which, apart from all considerations of interest, is some pledge for grateful and benevolent returns. Ingratitude is a common topic of declamation against human nature; and it must be confessed that instances of it are but too frequent and flagrant, both in public and in private life. But the universal and extreme indignation which it inspires is itself a proof of the energy and prevalence of the contrary sentiment.

In the third place, those ties which bind the representative to his constituents are strengthened by motives of a more selfish nature. His pride and vanity attach him to a form of government which favors his pretensions and gives him a share in its honors and distinctions. Whatever hopes or projects might be entertained by a few aspiring characters, it must generally happen that a great proportion of the men deriving their advancement from their influence with the people, would have more to hope from a preservation of the favor, than from innovations in the government subversive of the authority of the people.

All these securities, however, would be found very insufficient without the restraint of frequent elections. Hence, in the fourth place, the House of Representatives is so constituted as to support in the members an habitual recollection of their dependence on the people. Before the sentiments impressed on their minds by the mode of their elevation can be effaced by the exercise of power, they will be compelled to anticipate the moment when their power is to cease, when their exercise of it is to be reviewed, and when they must descend to the level from which they were raised; there forever to remain unless a faithful discharge of their trust shall have established their title to a renewal of it.

I will add, as a fifth circumstance in the situation of the House of Representatives, restraining them from oppressive measures, that they can make no law which will not have its full operation on themselves and their friends, as well as on the great mass of the society. This has always been deemed one of the strongest bonds by which human policy can connect the rulers and the people together. It creates between them that communion of interests and sympathy of sentiments, of which few governments have furnished examples; but without which every government degenerates into tyranny. If it be asked, what is to restrain the House of Representatives from making legal discriminations in favor of themselves and a particular class of the society? I answer: the genius of the whole system; the nature of just and constitutional laws; and above all, the vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America -- a spirit which nourishes freedom, and in return is nourished by it.

If this spirit shall ever be so far debased as to tolerate a law not obligatory on the legislature, as well as on the people, the people will be prepared to tolerate any thing but liberty.

Such will be the relation between the House of Representatives and their constituents. Duty, gratitude, interest, ambition itself, are the chords by which they will be bound to fidelity and sympathy with the great mass of the people. It is possible that these may all be insufficient to control the caprice and wickedness of man. But are they not all that government will admit, and that human prudence can devise? Are they not the genuine and the characteristic means by which republican government provides for the liberty and happiness of the people? Are they not the identical means on which every State government in the Union relies for the attainment of these important ends? What then are we to understand by the objection which this paper has combated? What are we to say to the men who profess the most flaming zeal for republican government, yet boldly impeach the fundamental principle of it; who pretend to be champions for the right and the capacity of the people to choose their own rulers, yet maintain that they will prefer those only who will immediately and infallibly betray the trust committed to them?

(End of excerpt from #57)


13 posted on 09/29/2013 7:48:32 AM PDT by loveliberty2
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To: loveliberty2

Love me some Madison


14 posted on 09/29/2013 7:56:37 AM PDT by DeWalt (Times are more like they used to be than they are today.)
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To: SeekAndFind


15 posted on 09/29/2013 7:59:19 AM PDT by Chode (Stand UP and Be Counted, or line up and be numbered - *DTOM* -vvv- NO Pity for the LAZY)
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To: jurroppi1
When everything you are paid is taken from the people by coercion, you should be subject to what you ‘do unto the least of your brethren'.
16 posted on 09/29/2013 8:00:54 AM PDT by Old North State
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To: SeekAndFind

Twitter exploding with this piece. All the lefties retweeting this like its free cocaine. NRO has handed Dems and media cover for one of the most vulnerable aspects of Obamacare.


17 posted on 09/29/2013 8:03:07 AM PDT by nhwingut (This tagline is for lease)
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To: nhwingut

Is it time for an American Spring...or Autumn as the case may be?


18 posted on 09/29/2013 8:08:23 AM PDT by Betty Jane
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To: jurroppi1

I am good with that too.


19 posted on 09/29/2013 8:08:26 AM PDT by jospehm20
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To: SeekAndFind
Congressmen and their staff, then, are getting a questionable workaround from the law — but it’s from a provision of the law that treated them particularly badly rather than neutrally.

Awwwwww. Were the poor little babies getting treated particularly badly?

Screw 'em.

We got to get it through their heads and OUR heads that THEY work for us, WE don't work for them.

You can slice this and dice this any way you want but you can't get around the fact that they got a sweetheart deal.

Thanks a lot, National Review.

What a bunch of rectums.

20 posted on 09/29/2013 8:19:30 AM PDT by Texas Eagle (If it wasn't for double-standards, Liberals would have no standards at all -- Texas Eagle)
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To: St_Thomas_Aquinas
NRO: Apologist for the welfare state.

I saw their "Washington Editor" on C-Span last night in between some votes. He kept mentioning John McCain's actions on this so far, as if that is the proper example of how the House should be behaving. Yes, McCain.

Poor Bill Buckley must be rolling over in his grave.

Apparently closet liberals are well on their way to infiltrating conservative media, just as they already infiltrated the mainstream media, academia, etc. While I used to be an avid reader of NRO, it's one of the last places I'd look for info now. If they're not already "liberal", they're at least fully "establishment" now, and their opinions seem more about subliminal messages, than particularly insightful.

21 posted on 09/29/2013 8:20:21 AM PDT by Golden Eagle (In God We Trust)
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To: Gaffer
Employer provided health insurance benefits are NOT generally taxed as income received by employees.


22 posted on 09/29/2013 8:21:50 AM PDT by kenavi (Debunk THIS!)
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To: jurroppi1

Its also important to note that these staffers are not fresh out of college kids like so many seem to believe.

For instance, One of John McCain’s former chiefs of staff left his office to take a job as VP of Lockheed Martin. She left LM and is currently back in DC as the GOP staff director for the armed services committee.


23 posted on 09/29/2013 8:22:00 AM PDT by cripplecreek (REMEMBER THE RIVER RAISIN!)
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To: kenavi

A subsidy is NOT an employer provided health plan. It should be taxable just like a bonus.


24 posted on 09/29/2013 8:50:52 AM PDT by Gaffer
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To: Gaffer

Spoken like a tax loving Dem.


25 posted on 09/29/2013 10:18:09 AM PDT by Henry Hnyellar
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To: SeekAndFind
Democrats actually accepted it, and put it into the eventually passed bill, but without the provision for employer contributions……..

OPM decided to contribute the same amount to these exchanges that the government now spends on congressional employees’ health benefits ($5,000 for individuals, $11,000 for families). This decision was probably illegal, since Congress didn’t authorize funds for the plan, as Cato’s Michael Cannon explains.

What has happened to respect for the law? The author clearly makes the case that subsidizing health insurance premiums for congress and their employees is not authorized by law but then goes on to applaud the illegal subsidy because it is fair. Decisions are not made by agencies (OPM) but by individuals and the individual who made and signed off on this decision should be located and prosecuted for misapplication of federal funds as should any dispersing official who follows the order to illegally spend government money. There is a four year statute of limitations for this type crime so it could be dealt with by the next administration but in any case, it should not be allowed to stand.

26 posted on 09/29/2013 11:16:58 AM PDT by etcb
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To: Henry Hnyellar

Ordinarily, I am against taxes, but when the group asking for special favors is the entire Congress and its employees, I’d say tax the hell out of the booty they’re stealing from us.

How is that ‘spoken like a tax-loving Dem?’


27 posted on 09/30/2013 2:13:48 AM PDT by Gaffer
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To: nhwingut

“All I can say is follow the money.”

It takes some writer this many words to “explain” what should be a very simple thing. This whole Obamacare business reminds me of this short Abbott and Costello skit.

“It didn’t cost that much - you gave me too much money”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7pMYHn-1yA


28 posted on 09/30/2013 2:25:31 AM PDT by 21twelve ("We've got the guns, and we got the numbers" adapted and revised from Jim M.)
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To: Old North State

I am not entirely sure I understand the gist of your response. Sounds to me like you agree with my sentiments, but I figured I might as well ask for clarification.

Do you mean what’s good for the gander is good for the goose?


29 posted on 09/30/2013 10:53:10 AM PDT by jurroppi1
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To: jurroppi1

What I was trying to say was that those who are supplied with income (government employee) from money taken by force from others(net taxpayers), they should have no expectation of receiving a greater level of benefits than the least of those taxpayers. Government employees should not have their own health care costs paid for by people who do not get the same treatment, yet are forced to pay for theirs. Private sector employers, those subject to market forces, can offer whatever they are able because their income arising from voluntary exchanges. IBM or Exxon can’t force me to supply them with income, but if I do so of my own free will, they can spend the money as they please. So, in a way, I guess you could say what is good for the goose is good for the gander, as long as the gander doesn’t show up with a badge and a gun.


30 posted on 10/10/2013 10:35:44 AM PDT by Old North State
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To: Old North State

Got it, I figured we basically agreed.


31 posted on 10/10/2013 10:51:07 AM PDT by jurroppi1
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To: SeekAndFind

So an associate editor of the NR says we should favor our Congressmen voting for this—even though it is illegal?

I bet if you compared the change in household income since 2008, the Congress critters and their staff have gone up by thousands, while the average American household has gone down. Add in how much more the average American is going to be forced to pay for health insurance, and Congress has inflicted more harm on the public than this law would inflict on them.

The idea that we’re not going to get quality Congressmen (snicker, snicker) over a few grand in healthcare costs is silly. The bulk of the financial benefits of being in Congress come in the pensions and lobbying after they’re out of Congress anyway.

And yes, Congress and their staff absolutely should not be shielded from the healthcare costs they inflict upon us because Uncle Sam is picking up the full tab on their premium plans.


32 posted on 10/10/2013 11:31:15 AM PDT by 9YearLurker
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