Continuing Appropriationsby Senator David Vitter
Posted on 2013-10-01
VITTER. Mr. President, I come back to the Chamber to urge the
following. I hope as we try to resolve this important spending bill
that a key part of that resolution is to live by existing law under
ObamaCare and make sure that Members of Congress and our staff aren't
treated far differently and far better than the American people.
That is what the congressional portion of my ``No Washington Exemption'' bill and amendment is all about. It is a pure and simple principle. I think it is a first principle of democracy, and American democracy should work by that first principle: What is good for America is good for Washington. And what Washington imposes on America, it must live with itself: No special exemptions, privileges, subsidies or rules. The same rules. I think that should be the rule across the board for whatever part of law we are talking about. It should certainly be the rule under ObamaCare.
Indeed, it is the rule under ObamaCare under the statute. What I have been fighting is an illegal regulation promulgated by the Obama administration to get around the clear language and the clear intent of the statute. As the Chair knows, during the ObamaCare debate this issue came up, it was debated, and language was passed here in the Senate and put into the statute. That language says, pure and simple, every Member of Congress and all official congressional staff have to go to the ObamaCare exchanges for their health care, the same as other Americans who are going to the exchange. No special treatment, no special exemption or rules or subsidies. That is the clear language and that was the clear intent.
[[Page S7083]] Amazingly--and I was happy to see it at the time--that language, which I fought hard for, along with many, many others, led on the Senate side by Senator Chuck Grassley--was adopted. That became part of the statute that passed into law. But, apparently, it was an example of that old Nancy Pelosi quote--we have to pass the law to figure out what is in it--because that language that did pass as part of the ObamaCare statute, when lots of folks on Capitol Hill started reading the details and they got to that section, they said: Oh, you know what. We can't live with this. We can't have this. This is a crisis. This would actually apply--the exchanges--to Members of Congress and our staffs, just as they are applied to millions and millions of other Americans-- 8-million plus who are losing their previous employer provided health care, against their will, and being forced to go to the exchanges.
So when that happened, after the passage of ObamaCare, furious scheming and lobbying started going on behind the scenes. This included lobbying of the administration. Harry Reid and many others got involved in asking the President to get personally involved to bail Congress out, to prevent this clear statutory language from having its clear force and effect. And sure enough, that worked. President Obama, according to numerous press reports, got personally involved. He literally picked up the phone, had conversations personally with folks in his administration about this rulemaking--pretty unprecedented--and, sure enough, a rule was issued conveniently right after Congress left town at the beginning of the August recess to flee the scene of the crime.
That rule, the so-called OPM rule--completely illegal, in my opinion, because it is contrary to the statute--does two things. First of all, the rule says: Yes, the statute says all Members of Congress and all official congressional staff go to the ObamaCare exchanges for health care, but we don't know who official staff is. We have no idea. We can't figure that out, so we are going to leave it up to each individual Member of Congress to figure out who among their employees is official staff for purposes of this section, and we are never going to second-guess any decision by any Member of Congress, even though this could result in up to 535 different applications of the law.
I think we should all be able to agree that is flat-out ridiculous. The law is written. It is written clearly. It uses the words: Official congressional staff. For OPM to say, through this rule, we can't figure that out, we will leave it up to each individual Member of Congress, is ridiculous, particularly since that would allow a Member saying no one who works for me is ``official staff'' for purposes of this section. What? They can completely get around the law with regard to staff that way. That is just flat-out ridiculous.
The second thing this illegal OPM rule does is to say that even for Members of Congress and their staff who do go to the exchange for their health care, they get to take with them something that no other American from a big employer in that sort of situation gets to take-- they get to take with them their previous Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan subsidy--a huge taxpayer funded subsidy that no other American at that income level would get. That is completely separate treatment not envisioned by the statute in any way, and not mentioned in the statute in any way. In fact, there are plenty of parts in the statute contrary to that. But they get to take that with them to the exchange.
Is that available to any other American in that situation at that income level? Absolutely not. So again, that is flat-out ridiculous and flat out at odds with the clear statutory language and intent of that provision of ObamaCare.
Ever since we came back into session after the August recess and had the opportunity to correct this egregious illegal OPM rule, I have been fighting alongside others to do just that. I have been fighting along with a number of Senate colleagues, and I thank them all for their active involvement. I have also been fighting alongside Congressman Ron DeSantis of Florida, who is leading the House effort, and many, many other House colleagues who are all for this measure.
I want to make clear and underscore, because this is important, that with regard to Members of Congress and staff, this isn't demanding some new law. This isn't demanding some change to ObamaCare. This is saying let us simply live with what the law is. Let us simply live with the clear statutory language. That is what we need to do, and we need to do it because it is fair and right for the American people. We need to do it because Americans are sick and tired, quite frankly, of Washington elites treating themselves like a higher select ruling class.
That is exactly the concept the American revolution was founded on. That is exactly the mindset that led to our breaking away from Britain, which was a monarchy and was governed by that mindset. Yet here we are, as in many other cases, Washington is reintroducing that principle. That is a thoroughly un-American principle. And the first principle of American democracy--and we should affirm it--is that what Washington passes onto America, it lives with itself. Same rules, no special exemptions, no carve-outs, subsidies, or bailouts. What is good for America is good for Washington, and it should be applied equally across the board. Simple concept. Basic concept.
As I said, I would call it the first rule of American democracy, but it is being trampled on in this instance. It is being trampled on as yet again Washington sets itself apart and above the American people as a select elite ruling class. That is wrong, and it is as wrong as yet another of a number of exemptions from ObamaCare; it is wrong as yet another example of special treatment--a carve-out, waivers, or exemptions.
The President often says: This is the law of the land. He is right. So why don't we apply the law of the land as it is written across the board, no exemptions, no waivers, no illegal rules that are contrary to the clear language and intent of ObamaCare. Why don't we start by applying ObamaCare just as it is being applied to America in Washington. Why don't we start by living by the letter and the spirit of the law in saying all Members of Congress and all congressional staff go to the exchanges for their health care and do not take any special taxpayer funded subsidy with them that is unavailable to any other Americans at that income level.
That would be leadership, and that is what we need to do. That is not changing the law. That is living by the law. We need to do that and we need to do it now as part of any resolution to these spending bill disagreements.
Mr. President, I urge my colleagues to gather around this principle. I urge my colleagues to vote right on this issue. I assure my colleagues they are going to get the chance to vote one way or the other. I am going to continue to demand a clear, clean up-or-down vote on the Senate floor on this issue. We have not had it. I have fought for it for about 4 weeks now. But because of the extraordinary efforts--quite frankly, including threats and intimidation and bribery--of the majority leader, we have not been allowed that clear up-or-down vote. I will assure my colleagues we are going to get it.
I don't know when, I don't know how, because I don't control that, but I am going to make darn sure we are going to get it. And not much, if anything, of substance is going to happen until we do. This is overdue because this goes into effect today.
Mr. President, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.