Vitter Wants Reid to Explain His Staff's Partial Obamacare Exemption (Updated)

Vitter, front, has been seeking to force all lawmakers and staff to join the Obamacare exchanges without employer-provided contributions. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 5:05 p.m. | Sen. David Vitter, R-La., is taking another whack at Obamacare and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — this time challenging the Nevada Democrat to disclose how he decided to exempt staffers from the exchange and whether those staffers helped draft the law.

Vitter invited Reid to the floor to discuss the matter with him and plans to read the letter he sent Tuesday to the majority leader for the Congressional Record. Reid is the only top congressional leader to exempt some staff from the Obamacare exchanges, even though all were legally entitled to do so. Reid's staff, in concert with aides to Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, largely were responsible for writing the 2010 health care law.

“Millions of Americans are losing the health care plans and doctors they wanted to keep and are facing dramatic premium increases, all as Washington enjoys a special exemption,” Vitter said in a statement that accompanied the letter. “I’m asking Sen. Reid to publicly and in writing answer four important questions about his choice to exempt some of his staff from Obamacare. To make it easy, I’ve offered to have him join me on the Senate floor this afternoon.”

Vitter had previously filed ethics complaints against Reid over a seemingly retaliatory amendment that Democrats had floated introducing to Vitter's proposal to take away congressional staff and members' employer contributions. The Reid amendment would have disqualified members who had solicited prostitutes from entering the Obamacare exchanges. Vitter was implicated in the D.C. Madam scandal in 2007.

Vitter's letter to Reid on Tuesday asked the senator four basic questions: How did he designate his staff as "non-official" and ergo exempt from the exchanges; do those staffers receive taxpayer-funded salaries or benefits; were the staffers exempted involved in drafting the law; and does Reid feel his actions are consistent with previous statements that staffers would enter the exchange?

Full letter below:

December 10, 2013

The Honorable Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)

Office of the Senate Majority Leader

S-221 the Capitol

Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Majority Leader Reid,

It has been reported that you are the only Member of top Congressional leadership--House and Senate, Democrat and Republican-- who has exempted some of your staff from having to procure their health insurance through the Obamacare Exchange as clearly required by the Obamacare statute.

Millions of Americans are losing the health care plans and doctors they wanted to keep and are facing dramatic premium increases, all as Washington enjoys a special exemption. Given this, I ask you to publicly and in writing answer the four important questions below regarding your office's exemption. I will also be on the Senate floor to discuss this at approximately 4:15 pm today and invite you to join me there.

First, how did you designate each member of your staff, including your leadership staff, regarding their status as “official” (going to the Exchange) or "not official" (exempted from Exchange)? Did you delegate that designation to the Senate Disbursing Office, which would have the effect of exempting all of your leadership staff from going to the Exchange?

Second, if any of your staff is designated as "not official" (exempted from Exchange), are any of those staff members receiving official taxpayer-funded salaries, benefits, office space, office equipment, or any other taxpayer support?

Third, if any of your staff is designated as "not official" (exempted from Exchange), did any of these staff members assist you in drafting or passing Obamacare into law? If so, which staff members exactly?

Fourth, how are the above designations of yours consistent with the clear, unequivocal statement you made on September 12: "Let's stop these really juvenile political games -- the one dealing with health care for senators and House members and our staff. We are going to be part of exchanges, that's what the law says and we'll be part of that."[1]

I look forward to your clear, written responses to these important questions. I also look forward to having fair, up-or-down votes on the Senate floor on my "Show Your Exemptions" and "No Washington Exemptions" proposals in the new year.


David Vitter

U.S. Senator

Update 5:05 p.m.

Reid's office released the following response to the Vitter letter.

“We hope that Senator Vitter enjoys the government-sponsored health care contribution he reportedly continues to receive even as he launches these pointless political attacks," Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said in an emailed statement. "Senator Reid continues to stand ready to work with any Republican who wants to work together to fix issues with the Affordable Care Act as they arise. Instead, Senator Vitter and his fellow Republicans appear dead set on going back to the days when insurance companies could deny Americans coverage based on pre-existing conditions."