Updated 11:30 a.m. | Senate Democrats are considering leaking a series of emails between the chiefs of staff of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker John A. Boehner regarding employer contributions to congressional staff health care plans, multiple top-level sources said late Monday.
Senate Democratic chiefs of staff discussed the emails between Reid chief David Krone and Boehner chief Mike Sommers at a recent meeting, according to a source with direct knowledge of the meeting.
Leaking the emails would be unusual, given the taboo over disclosing personal communications between top staffers. But the missives also would reveal Boehner's position on employer subsidies for congressional staff. Democrats believe the Ohio Republican's decision to attach an amendment to revoke those contributions to the most recent House continuing resolution was a direct shot at vulnerable Senate Democrats up in 2014 and would like to highlight the contradiction between Boehner's public and private stances on the issue.
Senate Democrats believe that Republican efforts to force a vote on what some in the GOP have characterized as a congressional "exemption" are designed to politically corner Democrats like Kay Hagan of North Carolina or Mark Pryor in Arkansas, who represent more conservative states. Democrats contend that Republicans just want to campaign on the issue, while hoping the amendment will not pass.
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., described the emails to lobbyists at a dinner on Capitol Hill on Monday night, telling those present that they would be leaked within a day, according to someone who attended the event. When asked if he talked about leaking the emails at dinner, Durbin did not deny the conversation: "I have heard about [the emails] but I have not seen any. ... All I'll say is that I've heard there are emails but I have not seen them."
An aide to Boehner provided a statement about the correspondence late Monday night.
“Any emails from Mr. Sommers will reflect the Speaker’s position: he voted against Obamacare, and he wants to repeal Obamacare. If the Senate Democrats and the White House want to make a ‘fix’ to the law, it would be their fix. The Speaker’s ‘fix’ is repeal," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said. "This is just a desperate act by Harry Reid’s staff to protect their own subsidy.”
Reid's spokesman declined to comment.
Outside the general assumption that communications between leaders and their staff are private, any decision by Reid to disclose the emails between his chief and Boehner's likely would destroy future efforts by the two chiefs to correspond about future policy matters — such as the looming fight over raising the debt limit, which economists have described as potentially more damaging to the economy that the current government shutdown.
Updated 11:30 a.m.
Reid's office decided Tuesday morning to release the documents to Politico.
The emails, which were not provided to CQ Roll Call, apparently reveal that Boehner's staff and Reid's staff participated in routine coordination between two leaders of Congress to avoid having congressional staff lose their health care benefits.
"During a five-month period stretching from February to July, Boehner and his aides sought along with Reid’s office to solve what had become a big headache for both of them," Politico writes. "They drafted and reviewed a possible legislative fix, as well as continued to push for an administrative one from the Office of Personnel Management."
It bears repeating again that the original intent of the provision that is causing leaders so much trouble was merely to force Congressional staff on to Obamacare exchanges, not to have those employees get no employer contribution toward their care.