IN MY OPINION

Glenn Garvin: Congress plots exit from Obamacare coverage

 

ggarvin@MiamiHerald.com

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 last week 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 long-time 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 healthcare 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.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
SHARPLESS

    DETAINED IMMIGRANTS

    Dade, Broward lead the way

    Miami-Dade and Broward county jails have stopped detaining immigrants for the federal government at taxpayers’ expense. Florida’s other jails and prisons should do the same.

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">GANG WARFARE</span>: The end of a truce between street gangs in El Salvador has led to a steep rise in homicides this year, adding impetus to the migration of youths and children to the United States.

    MIGRANT CRISIS

    The real failure in Central America

    The failure to manage the crisis of Central American child refugees at the Mexican border is not only about the inability to enact a comprehensive immigration policy reform. The real problem is the failure to build transparent and competent criminal justice institutions in Central America, especially after millions of American dollars have been provided to reform and strengthen security institutions there.

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">EXULTING:</span> Vladimir Putin is still refusing to accept complicity in the shootdown of a Malaysian airliner as Western leaders fail to agree on sanctions.

    WESTERN LEADERS

    Historians will recall our leaders’ inaction

    When historians look back on 2014, they will note not just how flagrantly Vladimir Putin disregarded international law or how stubbornly Gaza and Israel kept firing missiles at each other. They will also be puzzled at how poorly the United States handled its economy.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category