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Vitter Threatens to Stall OPM Nominee Over Obamacare

Vitter is demanding answers about congressional enrollment in Obamacare. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., is threatening to stall the Office of Personnel Management director's nomination from moving forward unless he receives information on congressional enrollment under the Affordable Care Act.  

In a Tuesday letter to OPM's acting director Beth F. Cobert, who is set to appear at a nomination hearing this week, Vitter asked that Cobert answer a series of questions and disclose correspondence relating to an OPM rule that allowed lawmakers and their staff to enroll in the District of Columbia's small business health insurance exchange.  

"To date, information I have received from your predecessor has not been responsive to the questions I have posed," Vitter wrote in the letter shared with Roll Call. "In order for your nomination to move forward, please answer the following questions and provide the information requested." Vitter's quest for more information dates back to 2013. Members of Congress and congressional staff are required to enroll in plans developed through the Affordable Care Act. When the health care plans were set to launch in 2013, staffers and lawmakers raised concerns that their health care cost would dramatically increase if they enrolled in the individual health exchanges, since they would lose the employer contribution to their previous health care plans.  

So, in September 2013, the Office of Personnel Management issued a ruling  instructing lawmakers and staffers to enroll in the D.C. Small Business Health Option Program, which allowed them to continue to receive the government contribution.  

"Such subsidy is not available to other Americans who purchase their health insurance on a federal or state based exchange as the ACA mandated," Vitter wrote. "Therefore this amounts to a special exemption for Congress."  

Vitter has also argued that Congress should not be allowed in the exchange because it is not, under D.C. law, a small business. The D.C. government has argued that the OPM ruling trumped local law  defining a small business as one that employs 50 or fewer employees. Last year, Vitter unsuccessfully attempted to subpoena the District government for documents showing which congressional employees signed off on Congress' application to the exchange.  

Vitter, who is not running for re-election  in 2016,  listed several requests for Cobert, including answers to whether anyone within OPM argued the agency did not have the authority to issue a ruling relating to the government contribution, and whether there was any disagreement between OPM, lawmakers and the White House with regard to that authority. He also requested that OPM disclose correspondence with members of Congress and congressional staff, as well as White House staff and the president, regarding the government contribution ruling. Lastly, he called on Cobert to disclose all correspondence with the U.S. Senate Disbursing Office and the House Clerk's office regarding applying to the small business exchange.  

"Should you or anyone within the Executive Office of the President wish to see the nomination move forward," Vitter wrote, "I will be happy to oblige and help facilitate upon a complete and full response to the requested information now pending for over two years."  

Vitter's letter comes two days before Cobert is set to appear before the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee for her nomination hearing to become the agency's permanent director. Cobert has served as the agency's acting director since July. Her predecessor resigned after a massive data breach at the agency, which affected more than 22 million people,  including members of Congress and staffers , and sparked a series of congressional hearings.  

Contact Bowman at  bridgetbowman@rollcall.com  and follow her on Twitter at @bridgetbhc .

Topics: health-care