This is one of the trickiest political lies to come along in quite some time, so bear with me as we walk through it.
You might’ve heard just about every Republican member of Congress, along with Fox News and AM talk radio, shrieking about how President Obama has “exempted” Congress from Obamacare. The point they’re trying to make is that Obamacare is so awful and so ridiculous that the Obama administration has offered Congress a Get-Out-Of-Obamacare-Free card. Taking it one step further, they’re insisting that if Obamacare isn’t good enough for Congress, why should the American people be forced to endure its awfulness? The people should be exempted, too, which means the elimination of the individual mandate, and, without the mandate (a Republican idea by the way), premiums would skyrocket and the law would explode. Political sabotage, pure and simple.
During his filibuster and Meet the Press appearance, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) mentioned this “exempt” talking point numerous times. And in final hours before the government shutdown Monday night, Speaker John Boehner, among others, took to the floor of the House of Representatives and shouted, “Get rid of the exemption for Members of Congress! It’s a matter of fairness for all Americans!”
It’s difficult to encapsulate in any language, living or dead, the sheer intellectual violence of this lie.
Rewind to the marathon healthcare reform debate in 2009.
In an effort to flim-flam the Democrats, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) proposed an amendment that would force members of Congress and congressional staffers to abandon the existing Federal Employee Benefit Health Plan and, instead, to sign up for Obamacare in the health insurance marketplaces (aka. “exchanges”) just like ordinary Americans. Again, the point was to illustrate the shoddy and undesirable nature of Obamacare, and, subsequently, how the Democrats would balk at the notion, thus undermining their own pitch for how great the law will be.
But the Democrats called Grassley’s bluff and accepted the amendment.
So now members of Congress and staffers will have to attain health insurance through the newly established marketplaces. Here’s the problem. Like most employers, public or private, the government has always paid around 75 percent of the cost of the monthly premiums for its employees as a fairly typical salary benefit.
But now that members of Congress and their aides are being inevitably bumped over to the exchanges, they’ll lose that benefit, which would amount to a significant pay cut — especially brutal for low-wage staffers.
However, over the Summer, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) corrected the problem by creating a rule that allowed the government to continue to cover 75 percent of the new Obamacare marketplace insurance premiums. As an employer, naturally it’s the prerogative of the government to do this, just as it would be the prerogative of Trader Joe’s or Walmart to offer the same benefit.
But the OPM’s rule has been twisted and bastardized by Republicans into “an exemption from Obamacare” for Congress. Insane, especially knowing that none of this would’ve been a thing if a Republican senator, Chuck Grassley, hadn’t been monkeying around with the healthcare reform law. In a strange way, it’s a good thing he did so because now, in addition to giving congressional workers some options, it will ultimately reduce the cost of insurance for the federal government, considering how the Obamacare premiums will be lower, thus making the government’s 75 percent contribution lower, too.
And now… the rest of the story.
Remember how Speaker Boehner was screaming on the House floor about the unfair congressional exemption from Obamacare? It turns out that Boehner worked extensively with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and other Democratic leaders to re-establish the government premium subsidy for Hill workers and members. In fact, according to Politico, Boehner and Reid collaborated to schedule a secret meeting at the White House to convince the president to re-establish the premium coverage. In the meantime, draft legislation was circulated to entirely repeal the marketplace requirement for Congress, but it was never shuffled beyond the planning stage.
Eventually, pressure from congressional Democrats convinced OPM to allow the rule — the so-called “exemption” — to be authorized.
The duplicity and dishonesty by the purveyors of this lie is astonishing, especially coming from the leader of the congressional Republicans. There is no congressional Obamacare “exemption.” There never was. In fact, Congress has to buy insurance via Obamacare. By law. And the rule that Boehner tried to contort into an “exemption” was a rule that he himself lobbied for, in cooperation with his nemesis in the Senate.
I don’t know if this whopper lie is in the same category as “death panels,” but, wow, it’s way up there.