Nomination of Melvin L. Watt to Be Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency—Continuedby Senator David Vitter
Posted on 2013-12-10
VITTER. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent the order for the
quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I come to the floor to discuss what I call the Washington exemption from ObamaCare. One of the few real victories the American people had in the ObamaCare debate was we actually got an amendment included in the Senate consideration of the bill that said much of Washington--all Members and all of our congressional staff-- have to go to the ObamaCare exchanges for our health care, just like millions of other Americans. We had to get it there.
Unfortunately, I guess this was an example of what Nancy Pelosi said when she said we need to pass the bill in order to understand what is in it.
After the ObamaCare statute passed with that very clear and very specific provision in it, a lot of folks around here read it and said: Oh, you know what. How are we going to deal with this? A furious behind-the-scenes lobbying effort then began. It went on for months. It was to essentially get around that provision and the pain it would cause--the pain being subjecting Members of Congress and all of our staff to the same circumstance and experience as other Americans.
That ended with President Obama getting personally involved and the Obama administration issuing a special rule, and that rule is just an end run around the specific statutory provision. I think it is completely illegal for that reason, because it is in conflict with that statutory provision.
One of the key issues of that rule says--well, the statute says all official staff will go to the exchange, but we really don't mean that so we are going to leave it up to each individual Member to decide what staff are official and what staff will go to the exchange.
As a result, there is a huge loophole some Members are using to exempt much--in some cases even all--of their staff from going to the exchange.
As mandated clearly by the ObamaCare statute, we have to walk the walk of other Americans, and we have to share in that experience.
Sadly, according to press reports, the distinguished majority leader Mr. Reid is one of those Members actively taking advantage of that loophole and exempting much of his staff. Because of that, I have written the majority leader today and asked him to answer some very important and straightforward questions about that situation.
In order to make my point, I will simply read the letter into the Record. It was sent to the distinguished majority leader in the last several hours.
Dear Majority Leader Reid.
It has been reported that you were the only Member of top Congressional leadership--House and Senate, Democrat and Republican--who has exempted some of your staff from having to procure their health insurance through the Obamacare Exchange as clearly required by the Obamacare statute.
Millions of Americans are losing the health care plans and doctors they wanted to keep and are facing dramatic premium increases, all as Washington enjoys a special exemption. Given this, I ask you to publicly and in writing answer the four important questions below regarding your office's exemptions. I will also be on the Senate floor to discuss this at approximately 4:15 pm today and invite you to join me there.
First, how did you designate each member of your staff, including your leadership staff, regarding their status as ``official'' (going to the Exchange) or ``not official'' (exempted from Exchange)? Did you delegate that designation to the Senate Disbursing Office, which would have the effect of exempting all of your leadership staff from going to the Exchange? Second, if any of your staff is designated as ``not official'' (exempted from Exchange), are any of those staff members receiving official taxpayer-funded salaries, benefits, office space, office equipment, or any other taxpayer support? Third, if any of your staff is designated as ``not official'' (exempted from Exchange), did any of these staff members assist you in drafting or passing Obamacare into law? If so, which staff members exactly? Fourth, how are the above designations of yours consistent with the clear, unequivocal statement you made on September 12: ``Let's stop these really juvenile political games--the ones dealing with health care for Senators and House members and our staff. We are going to be part of exchanges, that's what the law says and we'll be part of that.'' I look forward to your clear, written responses to these important questions. I also look forward to having fair up- or-down votes on the Senate floor on my ``Show Your Exemptions'' and ``No Washington Exemptions'' proposals in the new year.
Sincerely, David Vitter.
This letter lays it out clearly. I think this is an important debate the American people care about. As I said in the letter, millions of Americans face real dislocation and pain under ObamaCare. They are losing--in millions upon millions of cases--the health care plan they wanted to keep and they were promised they could keep. They are [[Page S8593]] losing their ability to see the doctor they love and were promised they could continue to see. That number in Louisiana alone is 93,000 families.
They face skyrocketing premiums in many cases. Yet, as all of that goes on, Washington enjoys this Washington exemption from ObamaCare. Some Members of Congress, in particular--apparently, according to press reports, that includes the majority leader Mr. Reid--are using this end run around the clear language of the ObamaCare law and exempting much of their staff.
I think it is incumbent upon the distinguished majority leader to come clean and answer these four very legitimate, very straightforward questions in an open, transparent, written, and straightforward way.
I am sorry he could not join me on the floor right now to discuss this matter. I welcome that conversation at any point in the near future, and I certainly look forward to his written responses to these questions. I think the American people deserve that, at a very minimum.
I also think they deserve--at a very minimum--what I have been fighting for months: Fair up-or-down votes on my Show Your Exemptions proposal and No Washington Exemptions from ObamaCare proposal. The first is real simple. It simply mandates that every Member disclose how they are handling their office. It is the same sort of question and goes to the same sort of information I am asking directly of Senator Reid.
The No Washington Exemptions from ObamaCare ends the end run around-- ends that special status, that special treatment for Congress and our official staff. It would also put them in the same category of having to go to the exchanges with no special treatment or subsidy. It would include the President, Vice President, White House staff, and political appointees.
Unfortunately, again, the majority leader has blocked all of my attempts to simply get a vote on these matters. I am not asking everyone to agree with me; it is a free country, but I think I deserve a vote. I think the American people deserve a debate and a vote, and so I will continue fighting for fair up-or-down votes on the Senate floor on both my disclosure proposal, Show Your Exemptions, and the ultimate fix, No Washington Exemptions from ObamaCare.
I will continue that work, and I look forward to the majority leader's response to this letter.