Suit filed over Obamacare exemptions for Congress
Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal this morning to announce that he is filing suit in federal court to force Congress to "live by the letter of the health-care law it imposed on the rest of America." He wants Congress to drop the special exemption for lawmakers and their staffs and participate in Obamacare just like everyone else.
The president and his congressional supporters have also broken their promise to the American people that ObamaCare was going to be so good that they would participate in it just like everyone else. In truth, many members of Congress feel entitled to an exemption from the harsh realities of the law they helped jam down Americans' throats in 2010. Unlike millions of their countrymen who have lost coverage and must now purchase insurance through an exchange, members and their staffs will receive an employer contribution to help pay for their new plans.
It is clear that this special treatment, via a ruling by the president's Office of Personnel Management, was deliberately excluded in the law. During the drafting, debate and passage of ObamaCare, the issue of how the law should affect members of Congress and their staffs was repeatedly addressed. Even a cursory reading of the legislative history clearly shows the intent of Congress was to ensure that members and staff would no longer be eligible for their current coverage under the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan.
The law states that as of Jan. 1, 2014, the only health-insurance plans that members of Congress and their staffs can be offered by the federal government are plans "created under" ObamaCare or "offered through an Exchange" established under ObamaCare.
Furthermore, allowing the federal government to make an employer contribution to help pay for insurance coverage was explicitly considered, debated and rejected. In doing so, Congress established that the only subsidy available to them would be the same income-based subsidy available to every other eligible American accessing insurance through an exchange. This was the confidence-building covenant supporters of the law made to reassure skeptics that ObamaCare would live up to its billing. They wanted to appear eager to avail themselves of the law's benefits and be more than willing to subject themselves to the exact same rules, regulations and requirements as their constituents.
Eager, that is, until they began to understand what they had actually done to themselves. For instance, by agreeing to go through an exchange they cut themselves off from the option of paying for health care with pretax dollars, the way many Americans will continue to do through employer-supplied plans. That's when they went running to President Obama for relief.
The given reason for the exemption was that without it, it would lead to a "brain drain" of congressional staffers which would seriously impair the ability of Congress to function. That's an untested hypothesis and is beside the point anyway. Ordinary Americans have even better excuses than that and are being forced onto the exchanges to purchase their insurance.Why should members and their staffs be any different?
Johnson's suit claims that the Office of Personnel Management "exceeded its statutory jurisdiction" in granting the exemption. That may be true. And the legislative history of the ACA would also seem to support Johnson's case.
Historically, federal courts are reluctant to get involved in these jurisdictional food fights. But they may make an exception in this case.This is a case of who pays how much for a specific benefit of federal employment. The court may feel they have to draw a line to prevent abuses.
It's about time Congress began to live by the laws they pass that apply to the rest of us.