Friday, October 18, 2013





Different, Yes; Better, Probably Not

Rush Limbaugh routinely misinforms his listeners, so we ought not be surprised that he did so with the day's leading issue, the government shutdown/debt showdown.

On Wednesday, hours before a deal was announced, Limbaugh claimed

If members of Congress are gonna get their delay and waiver, why shouldn't you?  You know, why shouldn't we instead make a move legislatively that delays the individual mandate for a year, as well as do the Vitter thing?  That's the only point they were making.  It's fine and dandy if you're gonna throw the Vitter thing in, but you don't have to throw it into this continuing resolution bill.  You can throw that up any time. You could throw it up every day or as often as legislatively permissible. 

 I think it's classic.  I think it's something that you could score a lot of points with: make the Democrats vote against them having to use Obamacare.  By the way, has Obama gone to an exchange yet?  Has Obama gone to the website and signed up?  Well, now, don't laugh. It's his damn bill.  Shouldn't he be the first one in line?  Shouldn't he be the first one showing how wonderful it is, showing how easy it is, showing how wonderful the system works?  He's not gonna go anywhere near it, folks.  A health care bill named after him that he proudly accepts, and he's not gonna be anywhere near it.  So why should we?  Members of Congress, they're gonna get their exemption...

Except they're not.   Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler explains

As a result of an amendment offered by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the Affordable Care Act includes a provision that would require members of Congress (and their personal staffs) to get their insurance on the Obamacare exchanges. The Heritage Foundation has released a very interesting paper that details the legislative history of this provision, and how efforts to adjust it (including by Grassley) slipped away before final passage.

Thus there was an unexpected wrinkle: the exchanges are intended for people who currently do not get employer-provided insurance, whereas lawmakers and their staffs previously had about 70 percent of their insurance premiums underwritten by the federal government through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. For lawmakers and their staffs, the loss of employer contributions would have amounted to an unintended pay cut of between $5,000 to $10,000.

In ordinary times, technical fixes to complex bills are routinely passed, as there are often drafting errors. The Heritage paper makes clear that this problem was never intended. But as a consequence of the Democrats’ decision to pass such sweeping legislation with no Republican votes, it is all but impossible for such legislation to win support in the House. Politically, lawmakers also did not want to solve their particular problem while leaving other technical fixes untouched.

Under pressure from Congress, the Office of Personnel Management proposed a rule in August, which was finalized in September, saying the federal government could still contribute to health-care premiums.

The final rule would keep the subsidy in place only for members of Congress and affected staff who enroll in a Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) plan available in the District of Columbia. Such plans most commonly will be aimed at employees of businesses with fewer than 50 workers, but perhaps the theory is that each lawmaker and his or her staff constitute a small business. In any case, lawmakers and their staffs are not eligible for the tax credits that other Americans using the exchanges might qualify for.

Members of Congress and their employees are treated differently- except not at all in the manner Limbaugh implies. Patrick Brennan of National Review Online (!) notes

The law thus treats Congress and its staff substantially differently than all other Americans. Many Americans who now get insurance coverage from their employer may end up having to go on the exchanges; but only congressional employees are actually forced onto them, with the option of an employer plan prohibited by law....

Senator David Vitter (R., La.) says that Congress should pass an amendment to do away with this supposed “exemption.” The law would actually layer another regulation onto Congress (and executive-branch appointees, too) that doesn’t apply to any other American, by preventing their employer from contributing to their health insurance.

OPM has decided to contribute to the employee's health care plan the same amount as it has been spending on his/her benefits, in a manner similar to the approach taken by Trader Joe's- which, at last glance, is a private sector employer.

Rush Limbaugh is peddling the distortion that members of Congress and their staff are receiving an exemption from the onerous requirements of Obamacare.  Rather, failure to subsidize the health care plan of members of Congress and their staff would block them from the benefit private sector employees (thankfully) enjoy under the Affordable Care Act. Their net pay would be substantially reduced, in an amount Brennan estimates as between $5,000 and $11,000 annually.

Brennan asks

Do we believe that Congress and its staffers should pay the highest marginal tax rates, regardless of income; that every congressman must have served in the military to vote to declare war; that congressional offices have to carry out any and all reporting requirements and regulations they impose on a particular industry; and so on?

The answer, for most Americans, is "no."  And it probably would be "no" even for most of Rush Limbaugh's listeners, were they not subjected to a pile of dung daily.



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