Playing Obamacare Politics


USNews & World Report Thomas Jefferson Street Blog

April 25, 2013 RSS Feed Print

Rumors abound that Congress is looking for a way to exempt staff and/or members from the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Here is how the story goes from some Republicans: Members of Congress don’t like the legislation when it applies to them, therefore they want to exempt themselves.

The facts are otherwise; I’ll get to that in a moment.

But any notion that Congress wants special treatment in the current political climate is tantamount to taking a cyanide pill. Don’t even go there. I still have nightmares about the so-called “House Bank” from twenty years ago, when members of the House had accounts where their paychecks were automatically deposited. The kicker was that many were writing checks, knowing that the deposit was on the way, but also knowing that they did not have enough in the account to cover the check. But the checks were covered.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

All hell broke loose – “bounced checks” that were not bounced; special privileges to members; a bank for “members only.” The bottom line was that a lot of my incumbent House candidates lost their seats because of the perception of special treatment. It was impossible to explain that “the bank was not a bank.” It didn’t matter.

So Congress has to tread carefully. Any idea that it will pass some legislation that exempts it from the Obamacare law should be ludicrous.

The real facts are explained well by Ezra Klein in the Washington Post today. His point is that Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, inserted language about Congress to try to embarrass Obama and the Democrats. Democrats accepted it.

[See a collection of political cartoons on health care.]

Now, the question is can Congress and the government, as employers,  pick up some of the insurance costs of the exchanges in Obamacare. (Just as they do now with health plans, and a practice that private employers engage in as well.)

For thirty years at my firm, we have paid the entire bill for health insurance for our employees. Obviously, you can not suddenly tell a congressional staffer (or any staffer) making $30,000 that she has to pick up the tab for an entire $7,000 health insurance premium. You would lose good, qualified staffers in droves.

But this is an easy issue to demagogue, hence the response today on  Twitter. Our government should work to fix the problem, not play to cheap-shot political instincts.