Congress and Staff Should Beware Their Obamacare Bribe

Of all the problems with Obamacare, the one that should strike the most fear into the hearts of members of Congress is public reaction to their acceptance of a bribe to keep the law funded. Congress should reject the exemption the President offers them, which allows the federal government to pay for their exchange-based health insurance.

Many Americans are in the same situation as members of Congress and their staff.  Due to the increasingly unpopular Obamacare, many employers no longer offer their group or company-self-paid insurance, and so employees have to find health insurance on the individual market in the exchanges.

Over 90% of Americans polled do not want Congress to get special treatment.

No other employer in America gets to help pay for its employees’ coverage on the exchanges. They can pay their employees more to help pay for the expensive exchange-based policies, but that extra pay is subject to taxation. In the case of Congress and staff, that extra pay would become the subject of campaign commercials. That’s one reason why they didn’t want to go on record voting for the change.

Instead, Senate Democrats are using blackmail to silence the law’s critics. 

How We Got Here

As this exemption takes center stage, reporters will breathlessly call it “the Grassley Amendment,” as if it were the result of a piece of Republican legislation. But what Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) proposed applied not just to Congress but also to the President, VP, and political appointees, and allowed the federal funding of exchange premiums.

The Grassley Amendment didn’t get put into the law. What did, was the version from Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) with the Executive Branch people taken out, as well as the funding. When something is in legislation and then is taken out, it demonstrates intent.

The clear intent of Congress was originally to put themselves and their staff (who actually wrote the law) in the same situation as other Americans, and to give themselves and their staff more restrictions than the rest of the country faced. 

In designing the exchange system, since the federal government couldn’t force states to create them, these Obamacare authors created subsidies to lure states into making their own exchanges. The amount of subsidy varies with income and family size. For people at the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), the subsidy covers most of the cost of the insurance. The subsidies gradually taper off until four times the FPL, when there is a big jump in premiums.

The exchange subsidies, called “premium tax credits,” are available to Congressional staff if they qualify by income. The President’s bribe, on the other hand, is for the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHBP) to pay 75% of their premiums whether they qualify for the exchange tax credits or not. It could amount to thousands of dollars per year in compensation they are not supposed to get.

According to this calculator, a typical single, childless staffer would pay about $200 per month in insurance premiums, after about $500 per year Obamacare subsidy.  With the federal government picking up 75% of their health insurance under the President’s bribe, each staffer would get about $2,250 more in overall compensation, with their insurance premiums dropping to about $60 per month.

What They Earn

The average Hill staffer earns about $30,000 per year, with many earning less than that. But at the time Obamacare was passed, over 2,000 House staffers were making six figures, and over a hundred were at or near the top allowed salary of $168,411, which is about what a member of Congress makes. Because they have been getting paid health insurance and are already near the statutory maximum, they will probably have to begin paying many thousands of dollars per year for their insurance.

To simplify all of this: Congress has to choose between accepting the bribe, voting itself and staff a pay raise (and changing compensation limits), or cutting back on staff positions. 

Congress could pay its members and employees more to cover their increased health costs, but that would be difficult for them politically. Not only would it be a pay increase, but the reason they claim to need one disrupts the cost-saving narrative that the pro-Obamacare forces want to tell.

This was all supposed to have happened in March, 2010, when the law was passed. Somehow it never took effect, and members Congress and their staffs have been collecting their federal health insurance, contrary to the plain meaning of the law.

Why Americans Are Mad

What sets this issue apart from the many other scandals is the confluence of the bad economy: a steady stream of layoff notices, insurance cutbacks, people being pushed to part time, and the other Obamacare changes, which are now affecting every part of the country. Combine that with congressional low approval and the growing sense, over the last several years, that there are two Americas: the cronies with their bailouts and sweetheart stimulus swindles — and then of course the rest of us.

And then you dash that mix against the bedrock of America, the rule of law: that whatever else goes wrong, at least we know that the people who make the laws have to live with them. We thought Obamacare applied to everyone, which is part of its twisted appeal to its statist proponents. Everyone is beleaguered by the same hounds and forced into the same foxhole. What could be more fair?

This deal destroys that narrative. It takes the specific way in which Congress was restricted more by the law than the rest of us and turns it around completely — Congress and their staff will receive the benefit of exchange-based insurance, (such as it is) plus they get what no one else does, a bailout. It’s instantly clear that they got this benefit to win their support. That kind of obvious public corruption is unacceptable even to many of those who approve of the law.

That’s where the 90% comes from. Congress will reap this whirlwind if they don’t stop it now and cut off funding for this disastrous law.

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