June 27, 2013/ 19 Tammuz, 5773
Congress is not as stupid as you think
By Glenn Garvin
Congress is not as stupid as you think.
I realize that is not a high bar; but still, credit must be given when credit is due. Quite often when our duly-elected political representatives get together in Washington to pass some ill-designed, over-intrusive and brutally expensive law, they recognize the difficulties it will create — and so they exempt themselves.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration?
The National Labor Relations Act?
Minimum wage laws?
None of them govern Congress.
The much-lauded Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which sends corporate executives to prison for falsifying financial data, would decimate Congress if it were applied to the federal budgeting process. Which is exactly why it doesn't.
Once in a while, even Congress gets embarrassed by the legal loopholes it writes itself.
When ``60 Minutes'' reported a couple of years ago that it wasn't illegal for members of Congress or their staffs to engage in insider stock trading, they scurried to outlaw the practice. For a year, anyway. In April, Congress quietly gutted the public-disclosure measures that were at the heart of the new law.
So it should come as no surprise that, as implementation of major provisions of the Obamacare law approaches, Congress is stealthily plotting its exit.
The website Politico revealed recently that talks are underway on Capitol Hill to toss out part of the law that would strip Congress and its staffers of their sweetheart healthcare package.
Lawmakers and their aides — like many federal workers — have been covered for years by the lucrative (for them; not so much for us) Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, which pays 75 percent and up of the premiums.
But when the Obamacare law was being debated, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a longtime opponent of the legal loopholes lawmakers write for themselves, argued that if Obamacare was so great, Congress and its staff should be subject to the thing.
When Grassley's criticism started to win popular support, Democrats quickly moved to shut him up by approving his amendment that required Congress and its staffers to enter the new government healthcare exchanges created by the law. They even bragged about how they had called Grassley's bluff.
Now that the moment for joining the exchanges is at hand, though, members of Congress have discovered that the murky law they passed may prohibit the heavy federal subsidies required to support the benefits they've granted themselves all these years.
Buying insurance on those new exchanges, like (gasp!) regular people, will be expensive.
That's especially true for congressional staffers, who tend to be young people — the major victims of Obamacare.
Young adults, who are healthier and use health care less, have always been cheaper to insure than older people. But their rates are going to skyrocket, 75 percent or more, under Obamacare, which will charge them more to subsidize the insurance of older people.
That's OK for the rest of us. But it won't do for Congress and its minions, who are now in search of relief from the mess they've created for themselves.
The preferred solution is what Congress calls "administrative" — that is, getting some captive government agency to rule that the law doesn't really say what it says. That way, Congress doesn't have to take the political heat.
The preferred candidate in this case is the Office of Personnel Management, which administers federal employee benefits. Lawmakers hope the office will declare that Congress has the legal authority to continue subsidizing its own insurance even when purchased through the exchanges.
But if that doesn't work out, the pols will try to remove the Grassley amendment or even go to court to extract themselves from the clutches of Obamacare.
"I think we should begin an immediate amicus brief to say, 'Listen this is simply not fair to these employees,'?" said Rep. John Larson, a Connecticut Democrat who helped steer Obamacare through Congress. "They are federal employees."
As he is. And as we are not.