It’s the lie that never dies. Quite possibly the most egregiously misleading Republican line about the Affordable Care Act is that Congress is somehow exempt from the law — at least, that’s what they want their low-information voters to believe. Now, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration because of this so-called exemption. In fact, the suit was actually heard by a judge in an actual courtroom this week, and the news of the hearing allowed Fox News Channel to resurrect this zombie one more time.
FOX NEWS’ JIM ANGLE: Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin is trying to sue the Obama administration because it gave many of those in Congress something no other American gets — tax-free money to cover their cost on Obamacare.
SEN. JOHNSON: Americans hate it when elected officials or people in power are exempt from laws.
ANGLE: The law was clear that those in Congress would be treated the same, but then the administration issued a ruling that did the opposite.
So we have two frustratingly silly layers at work here.
First, it’s another example of the brand new congressional Republican cudgel against the Obama White House: the frivolous lawsuit. And since it’ll be next to impossible for Johnson to prove he’s been somehow injured by this nonexistent “exemption,” it’s absolutely and without a doubt a frivolous lawsuit. Secondly, there is no exemption. None. On top of that, the root of the policy which Johnson is calling an “exemption” originated with his Senate colleague, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).
Rewind to the marathon healthcare reform debate in 2009.
In an effort to flim-flam the Democrats, Grassley proposed an amendment that would force members of Congress and congressional staffers to abandon the existing Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) health insurance program 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 members of Congress and staffers had to attain health insurance through the newly established marketplaces. Here’s the problem. Like many employers, public or private, the government had 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 have been bumped over to the exchanges, they’re losing that benefit, which amounts to a significant pay cut — especially brutal for low-wage staffers.
However, last 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’d be the prerogative of Trader Joe’s or Walmart to offer the same benefit. Again, OPM is merely continuing the premium-sharing policy from FEHB and applying it to the marketplace insurance plans. It’s the same deal, but potentially cheaper for the government since marketplace premiums are generally lower.
Yet the OPM’s decision to continue premium-sharing with congressional employees has been totally bastardized by Republicans into this “exemption from Obamacare” lie. 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 the first place.
But wait, there’s more.
Remember when Ron Johnson’s colleague on the House side, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), freaked out in a floor speech 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. 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, back-door congressional pressure convinced OPM to allow the rule — the so-called “exemption” — to be authorized. Ironic considering how Boehner’s lawsuit, as well as Johnson’s, includes the administration’s premium-sharing rule as part of the president’s extra-constitutional overreach.
Knowing all of this, why the hell would Johnson want to strip away the premium-sharing and force all of his staffers to pay the full monthly premiums for their marketplace health plans? Talk about injury. By attacking this alleged “exemption,” Johnson is risking a drastic pay cut for his staffers, along with every other congressional staffer, as well as House and Senate members who can’t afford their own Cadillac plans.
Seriously, we really have to question whether these bozos are thinking things through. They’re frivolously suing the White House for a policy that’s the same as it was before, and by stripping the policy away, they’re only hurting members of Congress and their staffers. Meanwhile, they’re telling their people that Congress is entirely exempt from Obamacare, even though they’re now required by law to buy Obamacare insurance policies. This might be the most incoherent, ridiculous thing the congressional Republicans have done since voting dozens of times to defund ACORN after it had already been disbanded. And Fox News Channel is right there, parroting every damn thing.