Sen. David Vitter’s quest against the government contribution to congressional health care hit a road block Thursday, as a number of Republicans on the panel he chairs declined to support his effort to subpoena the District of Columbia government for health care documents.
In a 14-5 vote, members of the Senate Small Business Committee voted not to subpoena the D.C. Health Benefit and Exchange Authority, with five Republicans voting against their chairman's effort to compel DCHBEA to reveal which House and Senate employees authorized Congress to be classified as a small business. Participating in the D.C. small business exchange allowed members of Congress and congressional staff to keep the government-employer contribution to their health care plans. Though Republicans did not necessarily disagree with the Louisiana Republican's questions regarding Congress' classification as a small business, they disagreed that this was an issue for the Small Business Committee.
“I think you’ve got compelling evidence that wrongdoing has been committed here," said Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho. "My objection is, I joined this committee because I want to do things for small business. … This isn’t the jurisdiction of this committee. For that reason I’m going to vote 'no.'”
Four other members of the party joined Risch in voting against the subpoena, including presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Sens. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo.
Enzi also spoke in opposition to the subpoena. “I’m not sure if we get the information, what happens to all the employees that are covered by insurance at the present time,” Enzi said. The Wyoming Republican said he is covered by the congressional plan, though he repays his government contribution. But he added, "I do want to make sure that I have insurance. I want to make sure my employees have insurance.”
The Republican dissenters might have come as a surprise to Vitter, as a committee aide noted all GOP members except for Paul had initially supported the subpoena request.
“The people who signed these documents perpetrated a fraud on the taxpayers, and the senators who just voted to kill this subpoena are now complicit in that fraud,” said a senior GOP committee aide.
The subpoena request came after months of attempts by Vitter to secure un-redacted congressional applications to the D.C. small business exchange. A recent taxpayer lawsuit obtained the applications, showing that the House and Senate claimed to have fewer than 50 employees and the chambers were also classified as “state/local government,” but the names of the House and Senate employees who verified the applications were redacted.
Vitter attempted to shore up Republican support during the hearing by noting that there would not be any further legal action after the subpoena, because he had been communicating with DCHBEA and he was confident they would comply with the subpoena.
However, the agency has been reluctant to comply with Vitter's request in the past, arguing that doing so would violate confidentiality. DCHBEA Executive Director Mila Kofman wrote in a response to Vitter's initial request that “Providing enrollment applications for any of our customers would be considered a breach of trust.”
Kofman issued a statement Thursday following the subpoena vote. "We appreciate the bipartisan action of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship and look forward to continuing to serve all our customers — Congress, small businesses, and residents of the District," she said.
Vitter said in a statement following the vote that he would continue to investigation Congress' classification as a small business.
"The message is clear: Congress should be able to lie so that members can get a special Obamacare subsidy unavailable to anyone else at that income level," Vitter said. "Designating the House and Senate as 'small businesses' with 45 employees is not right. And we owe it to our constituents to find out how this was permitted to happen."
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