Commentary Magazine


Obama Saves Congress From Itself

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was bound to contain at least a few surprises. When one considers the size and scope of the bill, not to mention its behemoth length, it was inevitable that those voting on the bill weren’t completely aware of every provision they were signing into law. Members of Congress and their staff have been panicking for the last several months at the possibility that they too would have to experience life under the PPACA, more commonly known as ObamaCare. In the rush of amendments and political gamesmanship, Senator Charles Grassley slipped in a vaguely-worded requirement for members of Congress and their staffs to “purchase coverage through a state-based exchange, rather than use the traditional Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP).”

When Politico reported on this provision, which would come into effect as of January 1next year, members of Congress and their staffs alike went into panic mode. The requirement would force those working in offices on both sides of the aisle to pay thousands of dollars more in health insurance costs. Understandably, there was concern about a serious brain-drain as offices cleared out, lest they see their paychecks dwindle by up to several hundred dollars per pay period.

Just in time, President Obama came to the rescue before Congress felt the full effects of the law that they inflicted on the rest of America. Today Roll Call reported:

Just a day after President Barack Obama told Senate Democrats he had personally engaged in the issue of his signature health care law’s effect on lawmakers and their staff, it appears there’s a solution.

Word began circulating around Capitol Hill that the Office of Personnel Management would soon issue guidance to address the way the health care law’s exchanges affect members of Congress and those employed in their offices. Senate aides initially declined to discuss the matter, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid confirmed the existence of a deal to CQ Roll Call leaving the Capitol late Thursday — and a White House official confirmed details of the plan later Thursday evening.

A White House official confirmed to CQ Roll Call that OPM will issue the new regulation next week, and in turn lawmakers and aides will not be eligible for the law’s tax credits and subsidies to buy insurance. Members of both parties had asked the administration to step in and clarify that staff was still eligible for employer contributions, fearing an exodus of talent. And enacting a legislative fix would have been messy to say the least given the partisan divide over the law itself.

Despite many Republicans’ outrage at the exemption, both sides of the aisle have reason to be relieved that a solution has been reached. Politico reported today:

Obama’s involvement in solving this impasse was unusual, to say the least. But it came after serious griping from both sides of the aisle about the potential of a “brain drain.” The fear, as told by sources in both parties, was that aides would head for more lucrative jobs, spooked by the potential for spiking health premiums.

Imagine how fast finding a solution to the mess that is ObamaCare would have shot to the top of the agenda in the Senate if top aides made an exit, if those aides could not be replaced, and if those remaining on staff spent their time job-searching and taking long lunches to go on interviews. Unfortunately, we’ll never know. As with every other problematic provision discovered about ObamaCare years later, the president has stepped in, saving Congress from the mess that it created. In this instance, the hypocrisy is more glaring than usual. The next time a poll is released on how little the American people trust Congress, and how low their approval ratings have fallen, hopefully congressmen and their staffers won’t waste time wondering why.