In case you didn’t think it could get any worse, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–NV) is apparently exempting his congressional leadership and committee staff from Obamacare, which specifically provides that “notwithstanding any other provision of law, all Members of Congress and congressional staff shall enroll in a Federal health insurance program” created under Obamacare.
This was supposed to mean that Congress would have to finance its health care on the Obamacare exchanges in the same way as average Americans.
But earlier this summer, President Obama pushed to allow Members of Congress and their staff to continue to receive Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) premium support for their plans on the Obamacare exchanges. This fix, issued by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), is flatly illegal.
Now, however, Senator Reid has brought the issue once again into sharp relief. OPM will not only issue illegal subsidies to Members of Congress and their personal staff; it will also continue to administer FEHBP plans for some congressional staff that were expressly denied to them under Obamacare.
Senator Reid’s fix for his staff apparently rests on his belief that the phrase “congressional staff” in section 1312(d)(3)(D) of the law means congressional staff in a personal office and does not include congressional leadership or congressional committee staff. From the language of the statutory text, this distinction is not clear, as the Congressional Research Service has indicated and independent analysts have also noted. Under the statutory language, the phrase “congressional staff” means “all full-time and part-time employees employed by the official office of a Member of Congress, whether in Washington, D.C., or outside of Washington, D.C.”
When Obamacare was passed, Members of Congress had intentionally repealed the old FEHBP as applied to Members of Congress and their congressional staff (unless of course, they didn’t read the bill). The only legal plans for these persons—and all of these persons—are those created under Obamacare. If Members of Congress are having buyer’s remorse, the appropriate remedy is to change the law—in broad daylight, with an up or down vote—not to ask OPM to create something out of nothing or shovel the American taxpayers’ money into their pockets without statutory authorization.
How can this illegal scheme be stopped? Back when President Obama granted the special subsidies to Members of Congress, the phones of Senators and Representatives rang off the hooks. Senator Reid’s recent decision will surely shine another bright light on this ugly business, and popular outrage may yet exact a price on the White House and its congressional allies for this self-serving scheme.
However, there might also be a few new legal hooks to challenge this abuse. In particular, congressional staff who are not allowed to illegally remain on the FEHBP might sue to get put back on it. This entire process is arbitrary. After all, if “congressional staff” excludes Senator Reid’s congressional leadership and committee staff, why doesn’t it exclude all other House and Senate staff in a similar situation?
Whether this dispute will make it into the courts, one thing is clear: Duly enacted statutes should not be overridden by executive fiat simply for political expediency. That would truly make ours a nation ruled by men, not laws.