Sen. David Vitter’s crusade against congressional health care benefits will continue this week, this time with help from a presidential hopeful.
The Lousisiana Republican is expected to introduce “No Exemptions” legislation to combat the employer contribution for lawmakers, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is expected to copy the language and try to insert it as an amendment into the highway funding bill the Senate is set to consider this week.
Cruz and Vitter have vigorously opposed the government contribution to congressional health care under the Affordable Care Act, calling it a “Washington exemption.” Lawmakers and their staffs were able to maintain that contribution as the result of a 2013 Office of Personnel Management ruling that House and Senate employees could participate in the D.C. Small Business Health Option Program, rather than enroll on the individual exchanges.
"The very people who wrote the law — Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats — wanted out of it. And this Administration was only too happy to oblige," Cruz said in a statement Monday. "Today, the taxpayers subsidize their platinum plans while millions of Americans across this country have lost their jobs, have been forced into part-time work, have lost their health insurance, have lost their doctors, and are facing skyrocketing premiums," Cruz continued. "Yet members of Congress retain their illegal exemptions from Obamacare, and it’s time to end the Washington favors that have gone on for far too long."
Cruz offering the amendment to the long-term transportation bill would be a move sure to bring more contention to the process.
Another GOP presidential hopeful, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, has already signaled he wants an amendment vote this week to block federal dollars from flowing to Planned Parenthood, and the must-pass measure is also lining up as the vehicle for reviving the Export-Import Bank.
Aside from presidential politics, there may be a good reason for Cruz to take charge this time.
Unlike the many times Vitter sought to get votes on amendments related to what he calls the "Washington exemption" from the reach of the Affordable Care Act, the highway bill is a measure on which the Louisiana Republican has played a significant role. He's a senior member of the Environment and Public Works Committee and chairman of the subpanel with federal-aid highways in its jurisdiction.
But Vitter made no reference to potentially complicating the highway bill in a statement Monday. Instead, he touted a 73-page report on his investigation into “Congress’ fraudulent Obamacare subsidy.”
Vitter contends Congress should not have been allowed to enroll in the small business exchange, since it is, by definition, not a small business under D.C. law since Congress employs more than 50 people. The question of Congress’ characterization as a small business in the exchange was the subject of a recent taxpayer lawsuit, but the suit was dismissed when a D.C. Superior Court judge ruled congressional staff could enroll in the exchange.
Still, Vitter is looking for answers, even after a failed attempt to subpoena the D.C. government over the issue. He listed a series of questions at the end of his report, including which members of Congress met with the White House to discuss the OPM rule.
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