September 19 2013

Kings of the Hill: ObamaCare Premiums Are for Little People

Charlotte Hays

Jonathan Strong has a fascinating post on the Republican discussion behind-closed-doors of the congressional exemption from the burdens of ObamaCare.

Unlike the rest of us, members of Congress and their staffs will receive subsidies from—well, from us—to help them defray the higher costs of enrolling in ObamaCare. President Obama, knowing that a Congress that doesn’t feel the pinch of his draconian health reform is less likely to overturn it, negotiated the special, ruling class privilege.

Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, has introduced legislation to prevent Congress from availing itself of this special privilege. The GOP held a little get-together the other day in the Capitol basement, at which these courageous words were uttered:

“Before you support this, go home and talk to your wife,” said Representative Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, who warned colleagues the change would amount to a 7 percent cut to their paychecks.

Representative Joe Barton of Texas said that he had never been a wealthy man. The change, he estimated, would cost him $12,000. “That’s a burden. And it’s a burden on our staff, too.”

Speaker John Boehner told Barton that he understood where he was coming from, but that it is “very difficult to explain to the American people.”

With all due respect to the embattled Speaker, the problem isn’t that this smelly deal is difficult to explain to the American people. It is that this deal is wrong. We didn’t send these people to Washington to acquire special privileges for themselves. We sent them to look out for our interests. As for the missus, Mr. John Public, who pays the taxes that will make these subsidies possible, won’t have such an easy way out of the higher premiums. His missus will just have to make ends meet.

More from Strong’s report:

Then Representative Phil Gingrey spoke up. Gingrey has led the charge in the House to end the subsidy, introducing the “No Special Treatment for Congress Act” and joining Vitter on a letter to OPM questioning whether its ruling is legal.

The Georgia Republican, whose latest personal financial-disclosure forms show his net worth is at least $3 million, had little sympathy for lawmakers and even less for staff.

Capitol Hill aides, he said “may be 33 years old now and not making a lot of money. But in a few years they can just go to K Street,” the Washington, D.C., vernacular for becoming a lobbyist, “and make 500,000 a year. Meanwhile I’m stuck here making $172,000 a year.”

The comment incensed some of the GOP aides in the room, two of whom relayed Gingrey’s comments to me. One person noted that many lower-rung congressional aides make relatively low wages and have no real expectation of a future cash-out.

Let's get this straight: If you’re a Hill staffer and don’t have the expectation of a big cash-out, taxpayers should be kicking in to subsidize your higher health insurance premiums?

And this:

In a phone interview, Gingrey said he does not remember exactly what he said, but his point was that “it is completely unfair for members of Congress and Hill staffers to get this special treatment that the general public are not getting.”

“I was engaged in a dialogue with some members of our conference who truly believe that Congress should get special treatment. And some also believe that staff members should get special treatment. I happen not to believe that,” he added.

The episode underscores the politics of pushing to end the subsidy. Politically, it’s a no-brainer. Mix special treatment for Congress with an already unpopular law and you have the equivalent of dynamite.

But were GOP leaders to embrace ending the subsidy, it would significantly reduce the income of the world’s most well-connected special-interest group: the denizens of Capitol Hill.

In my opinion, these subsidies are real corruption.

But you’ve got to hand it to President Obama: he knew everyman’s (or nearly everyman’s) price.

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