Clock Is Ticking

09.30.13

Will Vitter Amendment Be The Compromise?

Is the compromise that will keep the government from shutting down a provision that makes healthcare more expensive for Congress? Ben Jacobs reports.

It's late on Capitol Hill. Both the reporters and congressmen are now drinking and even the Capitol Police are mournfully shaking their heads saying "this town" as the federal government counts down the minutes until it shuts down. 

At present, neither Senate Democrats nor House Republicans seem willing to compromise. The House insists on an attaching an amendment to the continuing resolution or CR which fund government for the next six weeks that would defund Obamacare for the next year. Senate Democrats maintain they will not accept anything besides a "clean CR" which would simply fund the entire federal government at current post-sequestration levels without any amendments. Democrats are unwilling to budge on Obamacare but House Republicans insist that they won't cave---one aide saying that the GOP won't just give up and put a clean CR on the floor. But there is one compromise available.

The Vitter Amendment, a piece of legislation trumpeted by Senator David Vitter (R-LA) that would deny employer health insurance to members of Congress and congressional staff. Instead, they would be required to acquire their health insurance under the exchanges set up under Obamacare without any subsidy from their employer. The Affordable Care Act, in an spoiling amendment sponsored by Chuck Grassley (R-IA), required members of the legislative branch and their staff to acquire health insurance through the exchanges. This has since been interepreted to by the Office of Personnel Management not to forbid the federal government from paying for their health insurance but to redirected it from traditional employer provided health insurance to subsdizing health care on an exchange. The Vitter Amendment would forbid the federal government from providing that subsidy. 

As Matt Yglesias at Slate points out, this is more of a political gambit than thought out policy. But it sounds good politically. If it passes as a standalone, Republicans could claim a symbolic victory that strips out a government subsidy for fat cat politicians while Democrats would get the CR passed without any impact on Obamacare. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), who was elected as part of the Tea Party wave of 2010 told the Daily Beast that he would support a CR that only had the Vitter Amendment without delaying Obamacare.

One Democratic congressman, who assumed that the CR would eventually passed with the Vitter Amendment alone, warned darkly of its consquences. He thought that eventually the subsidy would be restored for staff---but not for members. Once they had lost that benefit, it would be gone forever and make service in Washington DC far more costly. He shook his head sadly, saying a lot of members would retire and then only millionaires will be able to serve in Congress.