The Congressional Exemption From Obamacare

Finally a conservative steps up to criticize the argument made by other conservatives that the administration is giving Congress special treatment by exempting it from the require-ments of Obamacare. In an article at National Review Online, Patrick Brennan explains that “congressional employees aren’t receiving a special handout” although he doesn’t quite make the key point.

Since World War II, the vast majority of Americans receive health insurance through their employers, including members of Congress and their staffs. But Obamacare is meant to provide insurance to people who aren’t covered by their employers. This means that Obamacare doesn’t even apply to most Americans, including congressional employees (well, as long as we ignore the unintended consequences that might affect all of us).

It’s hard see how politicians could exempt themselves (in the traditional sense of the word) from a law that didn’t generally apply to Americans in the first place, so the “exemption” argument is incoherent. It would make sense if, for example, Congress passed a law that prohibited employers from offering health insurance to employees, but arranged for itself to continue to receive health insurance through its employer (i.e., the government). But that isn’t the case.

As Brennan points out, Senator Grassley simply offered an amendment to Obamacare that required congressional employees to purchase the a policy available on the exchanges (to have a stake in the quality of the policies), but didn’t intend to eliminate the health insurance benefit that the government provided its employees. Evidently, the intention to keep the benefit didn’t make it into the final version of the legislation and thus the controversy (when OPM declared the benefit would be retained).

Some Republicans nevertheless believe the health insurance benefit should be eliminated (thereby imposing a pay cut on congressional employees) and some, such as Senator Cruz, want to go further and strip all federal employees of the benefit. This sort of attack on federal employees has been going on for some time and represents nothing more than retaliation for the fact that government employees tend to support Democrats (and that one third of them belong to unions).

Cruz may be a new rising star in politics, but his and his colleagues’ attacks on federal employees is small minded. The obsession with punishing federal employees for their political views not only implicates First Amendment rights, but is simply disgraceful.

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