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David V.
Republican LA

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  • Nomination of Katherine Archuleta to Be Director of the Office of Personnel Management

    by Senator David Vitter

    Posted on 2013-10-30

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    Read More about Nomination of Katherine Archuleta to Be Director of the Office of Personnel Management

    VITTER. Mr. President, I rise to speak on this nomination and to oppose it because of the recent actions of the Office of Personnel Management with regard to the Washington exemption from ObamaCare. I voted just now against cloture on the nomination, and I will vote against the nomination itself later today because of these very serious matters.

    OPM, the office to which this nominee is nominated and which she would head, has issued an illegal rule that is very offensive and flies in the face of the ObamaCare statute language itself, and this nominee has pledged to continue to enforce that illegal rule and illegal policy.

    Furthermore, OPM has completely stonewalled Members, including myself, my colleague Senator Heller, and others regarding how they came to that decision and, importantly, whom they talked with, whom they e- mailed with, and whom they met with in coming to the decision to create this illegal Washington exemption.

    Let me back up a little bit and explain exactly what we are talking about. Really, this story started several years ago in the ObamaCare debate. During the original debate on the ObamaCare statute, several conservatives, including myself, pushed an amendment that said every Member of Congress and all of our official congressional staff have to use the same fallback plan as is there for all other Americans-- originally, it was called the public option, and then it became known as the exchanges--no special rules, no special treatment, no special subsidy. In fact, that is one of the very few battles in that debate we won because that provision was adopted during the consideration of the ObamaCare statute. It was adopted right here in the Senate.

    So in the statutory language as it finally passed into law is that section, and that section says very clearly that every Member of Congress and all of our official congressional staff have to go to the ObamaCare exchanges for our health care--the same fallback plan as is there for all other Americans--no special rules or privileges or subsidies or exemptions. We go there. Well, I guess this became an example of what Nancy Pelosi was talking about when she famously said: Well, we have to pass the law in order to figure out what is in it-- because the law did pass. It had that specific statutory provision. Then people on Capitol Hill started reading it, and they came to that section and a lot of them said: Oh, you know what. We can't live with this. We can't have this. We can't be pushed to the same fallback plan as all other Americans. We can't stand for this.

    From that moment on, a furious lobbying campaign and scheming behind the scenes started to avoid that provision fully going into effect, to avoid the pain of that provision, the pain of ObamaCare that millions of other Americans are facing as we speak. Meetings happened, leadership meetings happened, Member meetings happened, furious scheming behind the scenes, and a lot of lobbying. Ultimately, that lobbying of the Obama administration paid off because in early August of this year, right after Congress got out of town for the August recess, conveniently right after Congress left the scene of the crime, the Obama administration issued a special rule with no basis in the law, in my opinion, no basis in the ObamaCare statute. This special rule was a special exemption for Congress, a carve-out to take all of the financial sting out of that ObamaCare section.

    What this special OPM rule is--and, again, OPM, the Office of Personnel Management, was the agency that came up with this illegal rule after this furious lobbying, after President Obama became personally involved, literally personally participated in the discussions leading to this rule. What this illegal rule does is essentially two things. First of all, the rule says: Well, ``official congressional staff''--we do not know who that is. We cannot possibly determine who official congressional staff are, so we are going to leave it up to each individual Member of Congress to figure out who is their official staff.

    Well, I would submit that is just ludicrous on its face. Congressional staff is congressional staff. Official staff is anyone who works for us through the institution of Congress versus outside entities and institutions, such as our campaign staff. So leaving it up to each individual Member of Congress is contrary to the statute on its face. It is outrageous on its face. But under this OPM rule, that is exactly what they do. So an individual Member of Congress can say: Well, these 10 people are not official staff. They are on my staff, but for some magical reason they are not official for purposes of this mandate. In fact, under this rule a Member can say: Nobody on my congressional staff is official staff for purposes of this mandate. And we see Members doing that as we speak. We see examples of that being reported in the press as we speak--Members deciding, ``Well, nobody is official staff. I do not have official staff'' because it will mean they will have to go to the ObamaCare exchange and live by the same rules through the same experience as other Americans. That is flatout ridiculous.

    But that is not the only thing the OPM rule did. It did a second thing that is perhaps even more outrageous. It said Members of Congress and staff who do go to the exchange--they get to take along with them a huge taxpayer-funded subsidy that no other American at similar income levels has, enjoys, going to the ObamaCare exchanges. This is a huge subsidy worth at least $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 or $11,000 for families. Again, no other American at similar income levels is privy to that sort of subsidy.

    Again, I believe this part of the OPM rule is flatout illegal. It is not in the ObamaCare statute. There was discussion of it. There were drafts that allowed that to happen, but the language that was put in the law did not include that subsidy. It was specifically left out. And, in fact, magically transforming what was, under previous law, a Federal employees health benefits plan subsidy, magically transforming [[Page S7648]] that into some ObamaCare exchange subsidy--that is contrary to law, and that is beyond OPM and the administration's legal authority, but they just did it because they could to bail out Washington, to bail out Congress. Well, this is outrageous and it is illegal.

    As soon as I heard of this proposed rule in early August, I joined with many colleagues, House and Senate, and I appreciate all of their leadership. I am joined by many colleagues in the Senate whom I specifically want to acknowledge, who are fighting for this change: Senators Enzi, Heller, Lee, Johnson, Inhofe, Cruz, and Graham. We are also joined by House Members, led by Representative Ron DeSantis of Florida. All of us quickly got together and said: This is illegal, this is wrong, and we have to stop it.

    So we came up with language to do just that, to reverse this illegal OPM rule and to make sure that every Member of Congress and all of our congressional staff go to the ObamaCare exchanges and that we go there just like other Americans go there--no special exemption or special subsidy or special treatment. Our fix also expands that to the President, the Vice President, their White House staff, and all of their political appointees because that is appropriate as well. So our language says to all those folks--Congress and the administration--you have to get your health care the same way other Americans are in the backup plan, in the fallback plan, in the so-called exchanges. You go to the exchanges, and you get no special treatment, no special exemption, no special subsidy.

    This is very important for two reasons. First of all, basic fairness. It should be the first rule of American democracy that what Washington passes on America, it lives with itself. Washington should have to eat its own cooking. It is like going to a restaurant and hearing that the chef in the kitchen never eats there. Something is wrong with that restaurant. Something is wrong with that picture. And something is wrong with Washington when Washington exempts itself over and over from eating its own cooking.

    The second reason this is important is a very practical one because the sooner we demand that Washington live by exactly the same rules it imposes on America, the sooner Washington will start getting things right on ObamaCare, on taxes, on regulation across the board. So for that very practical reason, we need to make sure the same rules apply to Washington the same way they apply to the rest of America.

    Let me come back to OPM because what we are debating is the nominee to head the Office of Personnel Management, OPM, the bureaucracy that came up with this illegal rule. That nominee has pledged to continue to enforce that illegal rule, to continue to defend that illegal rule.

    Also, OPM, to date, has been completely unresponsive-- ``stonewalling'' is the more appropriate term--to all of my and other Members' inquiries about the process they used to come up with this illegal rule. I have written OPM several times. I wrote them immediately after their draft rule was issued. I wrote them very soon after their final rule was issued. I specifically wrote them demanding all emails and other correspondence and other documentation and information they had from Members of Congress, from leadership, from the administration with regard to the work and discussion that went into their rule.

    Other colleagues of ours here in the Senate and also in the House have done the same. My distinguished colleague from Nevada Dean Heller talked to the then-OPM Director face to face. He asked the OPM Director: Did you speak with, were you lobbied by Members of Congress or the administration about this rule? That Director said: No, absolutely not. It now turns out that apparently is a lie. According to other sources, there absolutely were discussions, communications, emails, and the like between congressional leadership and the administration and OPM. So Dean Heller was lied to face to face about this by OPM.

    I have asked for all of the emails, all of the correspondence, all of the discussions that happened leading up to this rule involving Members of Congress, leadership, and also the President and the Vice President and members of their administration. That request for information has been completely stonewalled.

    So, first, OPM caves to intense lobbying from Washington insiders. Second, it caves and issues an illegal rule contrary to the statutory language of ObamaCare. Third, it stonewalls regarding the process and the conversations and the emails that led to that illegal rule.

    We cannot stand for that. That is precisely why I am opposing this OPM nomination and why I voted no on cloture and why I will vote no on the nomination. We need answers. We need to reverse this illegal rule. Yes, we need a vote on the Vitter amendment the distinguished majority leader and others have blocked for months now. We need that vote. We need that vote that has been actively blocked by the majority leader for months.

    Let's do things right. Let's get that information from OPM. Let's reverse this illegal rule. Let's vote on this important matter.

    I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER (Ms. Baldwin.) The clerk will call the roll.

    The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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