ObamaCare has become almost synonymous with “failure” since it was signed into law back in 2010. Over the years, ObamaCare has proven to be as big of a disaster as conservatives had predicted.
And yet, Congress – so far – will not repeal the law.
Sure, Republicans in Congress talk a lot (especially on the campaign trail) about the need to repeal ObamaCare. But for one reason or another, the Republicans have not yet gotten around to repealing the law.
Here’s a question worth asking: Is it possible that Congress has not been in any hurry to repeal ObamaCare because members of Congress and their employees enjoy a special exemption from the law?
A little-known (but deeply troubling!) fact is that Congress does not live under ObamaCare.
That truth deserves a bit of explanation. When ObamaCare was being debated in Congress in 2009, then-Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma suggested that Congress ought to live under the law and participate in an ObamaCare exchange.(A great idea.) When then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid cobbled together the Senate’s final language in December of 2009, he included language, located in Section 1312(d)(3)(D), that states it is a “Requirement” that “the only health plans that the Federal Government may make available to Members of Congress and congressional staff … shall be health plans … offered through an Exchange ….”
“Requirement” and “only” are the key words there.
After ObamaCare was signed into law in March of 2010, congressional staffers began seeking clarification on what the law meant for their generous healthcare benefits. Congress, at the time, participated in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), operated by the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The House and Senate paid up to 75% of the members’ and staffers’ health insurance premiums. No wonder it was such a popular aspect of the congressional compensation package.
Robert Pear, a reporter for The New York Times, asked pointedly in 2010: “The confusion [on Capitol Hill] raises the inevitable question: If they did not know exactly what they were doing to themselves, did lawmakers who wrote and passed the bill fully grasp the details of how it would influence the lives of other Americans?” Apparently, they did not.
To reduce that confusion and fear on Capitol Hill, congressional staffers sought the help of attorneys at the Congressional Research Service (CRS). The definitive response from CRS was that congressional members and staffers would lose their generous health insurance subsidies. The law required Congress to participate in an ObamaCare exchange, but did not allow large employers (those with more than 50 employees) to provide subsidies to their staffers participating in an exchange.
And that’s when Congress got creative (“conniving” may be more apt). Not content to live within the law, Congress negotiated for itself a special, one-of-a-kind exemption that allowed the House and Senate, with their combined 12,000 employees, to enroll in Washington, D.C.’s Small Business ObamaCare Exchange. President Barack Obama oversaw the illegal exemption and allowed OPM to facilitate the convenient law-breaking of our nation’s law-making body.
The final step was for two staff members – one in the Senate and one in the U.S. House of Representatives – to lie on the application forms, stating that the Senate and House of Representatives employ 45 people each. With the flourish of a pen, the House and Senate became small businesses. Cute, right?
(For the record, lying on an ObamaCare application form – which Congress flagrantly did – carries a $250,000 fine for normal Americans.)
It is unbecoming for a society that cherishes the rule of law to allow lawmakers to exempt themselves from the laws they write. Our nation’s founders agreed with that concept. James Madison addressed it in Federalist No. 57, writing: “[Congress] can make no law which will not have its full operation on themselves and their friends, as well as on the great mass of society.”
It’s time for President Trump to end the illegal congressional exemption from ObamaCare. The idea is overwhelmingly popular, with more than 80 percent of Americans supporting it. Americans understand this basic truth: The more we have wrestled with the law’s consequences and annoyances and unexpected expenses,the more we have wanted it repealed. And we are confident Congress would have the same experience. Even if Congress repeals the law before its August vacation, if that repeal does not go into effect for two years, then members of Congress would have added incentive to get replacement right.
And who knows? It could be a fun exercise in representative democracy. Just how quickly will Congress repeal the law, once personally subjected to its full effects? A tantalizing question, indeed.
Jenny Beth Martin is the president and co-founder of Tea Party Patriots.