Democrats Act to Stop Vitter Amendment, Keep Obamacare Exemptions for Congress

Tuesday, 17 Sep 2013 07:41 PM

By Jennifer G. Hickey

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Democratic leaders increased their efforts on Tuesday to turn aside an amendment sponsored by Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, that would prevent Congressional members and staffers from receiving exemptions from key Obamacare measures.

When Congress passed the sweeping Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010, Congressional members and their staff were exempted from several provisions of the law.

The Vitter amendment would change that and require the president and vice president to participate in mandated healthcare exchanges and would eliminate federal employer contributions for health benefits for the president, vice president, members of Congress, and political appointees.

The amendment also would block tax credits for assistance in buying insurance on the exchanges for these individuals.

The Office of Personnel Management issued a directive, allowing staff to be eligible for subsidies for the coverage they currently have, which will pay for the majority of their healthcare insurance. Lawmakers were not included.

Democrats who passed the law are firing back at Vitter and his supporters.

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois took to the Senate floor to defend the exemption, saying that allowing employer contributions for members of Congress and their staffs was simply asking "that this group of individuals be treated the same as every other American with health insurance through their employment."

Durbin, the Senate majority whip, said he fears "that this isn't the end of Sen. Vitter's crusade against health insurance by employers. I think this is the first step."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid joined the attack, saying Vitter's amendment was "hypocritical and mean-spirited."

"Sen. Vitter has happily allowed the federal government to pay for a portion of his health insurance for many, many years," Reid said. "If Republican senators believe they should bear the full cost of their own health insurance, they can, without any change in the law . . . decline the federal government’s employer contribution and pay their own way."

But a new poll released by the Independent Women's Voice gives support to Vitter's efforts.

"Overwhelmingly, 94 percent of voters consider it fair that the Congress be required to abide by the same law they passed for the country. Conversely, 92 percent of voters believe it is unfair that the Congress should be exempt from buying their insurance in the health exchanges," the poll said.

Vitter also took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to argue against the exemption, which he said was "flat-out against the law."

Vitter said his amendment goes to the "fundamental rule of democracy" that "the governors should live by the same rules as the governed – across the board."

The attack by the Democratic leaders follows an ugly battle last week over Vitter's amendment.

Vitter had been holding up action on energy efficiency legislation in order to force Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to bring his amendment on the Obamacare exemptions to the floor.

Senate Democrats drafted a separate amendment to the energy bill, prohibiting lawmakers from receiving employer contributions for health benefits if there was "probable cause" that a member used the services of a prostitute.

The language was a not-so-veiled reference to the scandal involving Vitter in which he confessed to committing a "serious sin." Vitter never admitted to being a client of the "D.C. Madam," Deborah Jeane Palfrey, and he was cleared by the Senate Ethics Committee in 2008 because the incident occurred before his election to the chamber.

Vitter's response to the Democratic amendment came in the form of a request sent to the Senate Ethics Committee last week, alleging that the offices of Reid and Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, violated committee rules "by proposing and circulating through the press legislation that ties members' personal healthcare benefits to their performance of specific acts and votes."

In an appearance on The Laura Ingraham Show on Monday, Vitter admitted he was playing hardball, saying of Reid, "I want to present him with ceremonial brass knuckles this week because that's what he's trying to bring to the Senate floor. That sort of intimidation tactic . . . is absolutely directed at every other member and it is an attempt to quash the rebellion before it starts."

The Vitter amendment on Obamacare has Republican Sens. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Dean Heller of Nevada, Mike Lee of Utah, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma signed on as co-sponsors.

Democrats aren't the only opponents of the Vitter amendment. Some Republican staffers are "quietly lobbying Democratic aides to ensure the amendment is killed because it would effectively decrease aides' take home pay," Politico reported.


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