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GOP Leaders' Response to Obama Saving Congressional Health Benefits Is Subdued

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Camp put out a statement regarding the Office of Personnel Management’s guidance on how lawmakers and staffers can use their federal employee benefits to help pay for health care on the new health exchanges.

Republicans usually love to rail against Obamacare, but leaders aren’t talking much about President Barack Obama’s decision to save health benefits for members and their staffs.

The Office of Personnel Management confirmed late last week that it would, in the days ahead, issue formal guidance clarifying that members of Congress and their staffs would not lose their health care subsidies under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Administration officials noted that members of both parties had asked the administration to step in, fearing an exodus of top staff if they suddenly had to pay thousands of dollars more out-of-pocket after joining the health exchanges.

GOP leaders are in a tough spot — few on Capitol Hill want to take health benefits away from themselves or their staffs, but the Republican base is dead set against anything Obamacare related, as well as anything that smacks of a special carve out for lawmakers.

On Aug. 2, as House Republicans raced down the Capitol steps to begin the August recess, many members offered their thoughts when solicited by reporters. Responses vacillated between relief that poorly-paid Congressional aides wouldn’t be suddenly burdened with exorbitant health bills and fury over the administration’s hypocrisy in sparing “Washington insiders” but not average Americans from the Obamacare “train wreck.”

At the time, Republican leadership aides suggested they would be prepared to share their own reactions, or those of their bosses, once there was an official ruling. But in the hours following the official OPM announcement on Wednesday, there was silence from key offices on Capitol Hill.

A spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio declined to comment, and the offices of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy did not respond to requests for comment.

One House GOP leadership aide told CQ Roll Call that “this was a fix worked out by Senate Democrats and the White House — our fix would be fully repealing this awful law for everyone.”

President Barack Obama did, in fact, indicate a willingness to intervene on behalf of lawmakers and staff after the issue came up at a meeting with Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill last week.

House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., put out a statement that expressed a sentiment similar to that of the leadership aide.

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