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Congress Doesn't Deserve an Obamacare Exemption | Commentary

Americans across the country have been forced into the Obamacare exchanges. They’ve lost the coverage they liked, they’ve seen their premiums skyrocket and they’re finding it hard to enroll in anything new. But what makes this even worse is that their representatives in Congress can’t completely relate. While all of this is going on outside of Washington, insiders in Congress and the administration carved out a special exemption and subsidy for themselves. They decreased their own Obamacare burden but didn’t do the same for their constituents.

A specific provision of the Obamacare law says that members of Congress and their staffs are required to get health care coverage on the Obamacare exchange, just like millions of other Americans. And just like the rest of America, they aren’t guaranteed any employer subsidy to help offset the cost of their exchange policies.

Or that would have been the case, if not for a decision by Washington insiders to protect their own. The Obama administration created an illegal administrative fix that allowed members of Congress to let most or all of their staffs forgo the exchanges. Those who did get policies through the exchanges are getting an employer subsidy, which is really a huge taxpayer-funded subsidy (about $5,000 for single workers or about $10,000 for a family) unavailable to all other Americans at their income levels.

Most folks would agree that this constitutes a special exemption exclusive to members of Congress, political appointees and congressional staff.

We had a chance to fix this. I introduced legislation before Obamacare went into effect last fall that would have eliminated Washington’s exemption from Obamacare and put Congress on the same playing field as their constituents. But Majority Leader Harry Reid and congressional leadership wouldn’t even put it up for a vote.

This is outrageous, and I won’t let it stand. I reintroduced that same legislation that will get rid of this exemption once and for all. Unsurprisingly, Reid and other Washington insiders are trying to block it, but they owe it to their constituents to be honest about this exemption. If they want to keep it, they should put it up to a public vote.

Reid has gone to enormous lengths to block a vote on my proposal. His newest trick is to threaten an important bipartisan proposal — the Keystone XL pipeline — to intimidate senators from supporting this legislation. Reid is trying to use Keystone as an excuse not to vote on my “no exemption” amendment, and he’s using my “no exemption” amendment as an excuse not to vote on Keystone. It’s cowardly actually.

But Americans didn’t elect their senators to be intimidated by Harry Reid. They elected us to lead and to make important decisions, even if they are tough. Americans elected us to represent them, not rule over them, and certainly not to give ourselves special privileges like an exemption from Obamacare. Members of Congress who realize this will support being treated the same as the constituents they represent.

Sen. David Vitter is a Republican from Louisiana.

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