Skip to comments.The Obamacare Non-Exemption: Congressional employees are not receiving a “special handout.”
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.) Its possible there will be exceptions, but for the most part the market simply wont allow companies to cut an employees compensation by as much as yanking away their entire employer health-care contribution amounts to.
While Trader Joes, 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 havent 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 didnt authorize funds for the plan, as Catos Michael Cannon explains.
Congressmen and their staff, then, are getting a questionable workaround from the law but its from a provision of the law that treated them particularly badly rather than neutrally. The net result of the law and the workaround isnt 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 doesnt 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 employees salary should be cut by between $5,000 and $11,000 (or, alternatively, that they dont deserve any employer contributions to their health-care coverage), you shouldnt 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 formers 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 Congresss 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. Thats 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 branchs fix doesnt 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 dont 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 Vitters 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.
“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.
Is he looking for a job in the Obama Administration? (where all good journalists aspire to be)
NRO: Apologist for the welfare state.
Poor Bill Buckley must be rolling over in his grave.
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.
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.
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.
They are like the queers. They believe they are a special class of people.
"We're sick of those House peons sabotaging our perks, privileges and exemptions."
"Obama has ruled that we Democrats are the Chosen Ones."
They truly are the ones they’ve been waiting for.
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.
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
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.
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)
Love me some Madison
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.
Is it time for an American Spring...or Autumn as the case may be?
I am good with that too.
Awwwwww. Were the poor little babies getting treated particularly badly?
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.