By Kristina Peterson
The latest Republican demand for keeping the government running doesn't dismantle the president's health-care law. Instead, it exposes lawmakers, their aides and White House staff to the law in a way designed to maximize the pain.
The proposal, similar to one backed in the Senate by Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, would limit federal health-care contributions to lawmakers, staff and to some White House officials, making their coverage more expensive.
Lawmakers and their aides are currently covered under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Just like most large businesses that pay for part of their employees' health-care costs, the government has traditionally paid part of the insurance premium for lawmakers and congressional staff.
But a provision of the new health law requires lawmakers and their aides to sign up for coverage through the new marketplaces aimed at covering millions of Americans who don't have insurance through their employer.
Because of their income level, lawmakers and many aides will not qualify for federal subsidies, increasing the cost of their health care. So, in August, the Obama administration released draft rules saying that the federal government could continue to pay a portion of premiums for lawmakers, staff and their family members for insurance obtained through the exchanges.
But House Republicans have questioned the legality of that decision and have said lawmakers should be willing to face the same complexities dealing with the new health law as their constituents.
"There's no doubt it will be expensive and one of my two boys requires a lot of medical attention and cost, but it's bigger than that," Rep. Kevin Brady (R., Texas) said Monday. "This is an issue of equal treatment."
Lawmakers said some House Republicans in a closed-door meeting Monday afternoon did express some concern over how the provision would be implemented and how it would affect their families and staff.
"You're trying to balance a really pretty difficult situation here and there were some who expressed those concerns," said Rep. Chris Stewart (R., Utah), who supports the latest House plan.
Republicans plan to add the provision, as well as a one-year delay of the health-care law's individual mandate to a short-term spending bill Monday, but it was not clear if there were enough votes to pass it. The individual mandate requires that most Americans carry insurance or pay a penalty starting at $95 in 2014 and rising sharply in subsequent years.
Coupling the two demands could make it harder for the provision prohibiting government health-care contributions for lawmakers to pass Congress, since Democrats have vowed to vote against the one-year delay and can now reject both measures together.
Had the lawmaker provision come up on its own, politicians might fear the optics of voting against it. Privately many House Republicans had resisted adding the provision to earlier versions of the spending bill, said Rep. Dennis Ross (R., Fla.), who had pushed to include it in the bill passed by the House early Sunday.
Democrats said the provision will punish aides unfairly, since they will be forced to look for coverage on exchanges designed for people without insurance provided by a large employer.
"The people who work here, who believe public service is an honorable profession the signal you're sending to people here is it's OK for them to become political pawns," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.).