Grassley Charges Democrats With Exempting Staffers From New Insurance Programs

Posted December 1, 2009 at 6:38pm

Senate Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) accused Senate Democratic leaders Tuesday of exempting most of their staffers from having to take part in the new health insurance programs that they hope to create under the health care bill currently being debated in the chamber.Using an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, Grassley said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) rewrite of the measure eviscerated an amendment the Iowan inserted into the bill during the Finance panel’s markup earlier this fall.“Careful examination by the Congressional Research Service of the bill that Senator Reid brought to the floor revealed that one of the things that happened behind closed doors was that leadership and committee staff ended up being carved out from having to live under the new health care exchanges that this legislation would create and impose on the rest of the country,— Grassley said in a statement. “This creates a double standard. It’s inexcusable.—Grassley’s original Finance Committee amendment required all Members and all Congressional staff to participate in the insurance exchanges created by the bill. The current bill would only apply to staffers in Members’ “official offices,— which would presumably mean leadership and committee staffers, the CRS concluded according to a Grassley aide.The exchanges, which would allow people to choose from several insurance companies’ plans, would be modeled after the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. The bill would add a public health insurance option to the exchanges for states that do not opt out of the program, but primarily, the bill limits exchange participants to individuals without employer-provided insurance and small businesses.Grassley said he plans to offer an amendment on the floor not only to include leadership and committee staffers but also to rope in employees of the president, vice president and cabinet agencies.“The President, the White House staff and cabinet secretaries are working very hard for this massive overhaul of America’s health care system. It’s only fair and logical that if this bill becomes law, these leaders should themselves be subject to the reforms,— Grassley said.A Reid spokeswoman said the leader believes employees in Members’ leadership offices would be included in the bill’s exchanges, but committee staffers would indeed be excluded. The spokeswoman said that Reid adopted language authored by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) during the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee markup and that the change was made to make sure that nonpolitical employees of Congress, such as the Senate legislative counsel and people working for the Architect of the Capitol, would not be required to participate in the exchange. The rationale behind not requiring nonpolitical Capitol staffers to participate came from President Barack Obama’s pledge that people who currently receive employer-provided coverage would not be forced to change their plans, the aide noted.