Show Your Exemption, Washington

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Americans are struggling with Obamacare every day. They’re losing the coverage they liked, seeing their premiums skyrocket, and struggling to enroll in anything new. But what makes this even worse is that Washington elites, meanwhile, have carved out a special exemption and subsidy for themselves.

There was one key provision of the Obamacare statute that I’ve strongly supported: the section that states clearly that every Member of Congress and all of their staff must be treated just like other Americans who are being forced out of plans they liked and onto the Obamacare exchange.

I thought this provision was really important for two reasons. First, Washington should be treated like the rest of America, not like an elite ruling class. Second, making the chefs eat their own cooking does wonders for the quality of what comes out of the kitchen.

But most of Washington strongly disagrees. The Obama administration took the sting out of this section of the Obamacare statute. An administrative “fix” gives Members of Congress and their staff who do go to the Obamacare exchange a special subsidy unavailable to any other American. It also creates a loophole by exempting many staff members from entering the exchange.

This is just flat-out ridiculous.

The Obamacare statute is crystal clear to me. It says that every Member of Congress and all of their official staff will have to purchase their healthcare on the Obamacare exchange. So all of my staff will be joining me in going to the Obamacare exchange. I will not use the ridiculous loophole offered to exempt any of us.

Unfortunately, plenty of other Members have elected to use the loophole. Some like Harry Reid have designated their personal office staff as “official” – they go to the exchange – but not their committee or leadership staff – they keep their Cadillac, heavily subsidized plan. Others have exempted everyone in their office, making the interesting declaration that they have no “official” staff. (So why exactly do these people get taxpayer-funded salaries, benefits, work space, computers…?)

To add insult to injury, this decision is hidden from the public. Members of Congress currently don’t have to disclose which staff they shield from the Obamacare exchange mandate, contrary to clear statutory language. I’ve introduced legislation to fix this. My “Show Your Exemption” Act would make these decisions public.

My legislation should be a pro-disclosure no-brainer. Regardless of what anyone thinks about Obamacare overall or even the Washington exemption, Members of Congress should be direct and honest with their constituents.

Making this information public is also in my mind a crucial step in ending Washington’s exemption from Obamacare. I’m continuing to push to eliminate that Washington exemption entirely. The “Show Your Exemption Act” is a step – a very important step – in the process to getting a vote on my “No Washington Exemption from Obamacare” legislation.

I’ll continue to demand votes on this issue as opportunities arise – and they will – including as next year’s election approaches. And ultimately, that’s when all of us as active citizens – as voters – can have the last word.

 

David Vitter is U.S. Senator for Louisiana