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The stupidest idea for ending the shutdown is still stupid

October 15, 2013|By Michael Hiltzik
  • Sen. David Vitter (R-La.): How dumb is my amendment? This dumb.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.): How dumb is my amendment? This dumb. (Win McNamee / AFP/Getty )

Among the proposals coming from House Republicans this morning to end the shutdown/debt limit standoff is a modified version of the Vitter amendment. I identified this measure Monday as one of the four stupidest proposals to end the crisis. 

It's been tweaked since then, but it's still dumb. In fact, it may now be the No. 1 stupidest idea. 

The original Vitter amendment, as proposed by Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana, would have forbade the government to cover any part of the health insurance premiums for members of Congress and their staff. This would amount to a serious pay cut for all affected, since the government partially covers premiums now, exactly like other big employers.

The new version restores the coverage for staff. Now it's just members of Congress and White House officials, including the President, who have to pay 100% of their health premiums.

Is there some point to this? Yes, the change avoids screwing congressional staff members, showing that Sen. Vitter has at least a caraway seed's worth of humanity in his heart.

But why bar employer coverage for the lawmakers and executive branch employees, unless it's to feed public contempt for its public servants (the House GOP has been doing more than enough of that lately); or reinforce the Republican talking point that Obamacare is so deadly that the political leaders who created it should eat the whole cost themselves? Or something. None of it makes any more sense than the shutdown itself. Which is to say, no sense.

In any case, it's worthwhile to remember again that the Vitter amendment is based in on the enduring myth that Congress and its staff are "exempted" from the Affordable Care Act. They're not. To repeat how we described the situation Monday, the facts are these:

During the 2010 debate over the ACA, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) mischievously inserted an amendment requiring that members of Congress and their staffs get their insurance from the insurance exchanges to be set up under Obamacare. They thus became the only employees of a large employer in the country required to buy their coverage from the exchanges -- in almost every other case, big employers provide worker insurance themselves. 

Like other big employers, the government customarily covered about 70% to 75% of their premium costs. But there isn't a provision in the ACA for employer contributions to exchange-provided policies, which are designed largely for individuals who don't get coverage through their jobs. Accordingly, the federal Office of Personnel Management issued a special ruling allowing the government to continue its usual share of employee premiums.

That's it. Congress and its staff aren't exempted from Obamacare -- they're subject to it more than any other workers for big employers in the country. 

Anyway, does anyone believe this thing will become law? It's just posturing by Vitter and the GOP caucus, and the time for this sort of fun is over.

Reach me at @hiltzikm on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or by email.


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