Congress begged for a White House handout and got one. Republicans ought to reject it.Posted: August 30, 2013
A Test of GOP Resolve on ObamaCare
Republicans are busy debating what gives them the most “leverage” in their fight to get rid of ObamaCare. One powerful tool, it happens, is an issue that few of them so far have wanted to talk about.
The issue is the White House’s recent ObamaCare bailout for members of Congress and their staffs. The GOP has been largely mute on this blatant self-dealing. The party might use what’s left of its summer recess to consider just how politically potent this handout is, and what—were they to show a bit of principle—might be earned from opposing it.
The Affordable Care Act states clearly that all members of Congress and their staff must buy their health insurance through an ObamaCare exchange. The law just as clearly does not reconstitute the generous government premium subsidies that members and staff currently receive. Since most members and staffers earn too much to qualify for subsidies in the dreaded ObamaCare exchanges, they were looking at an enormous financial hit come January.
Democrats in particular freaked out, and so the White House in early August conjured out of thin air a bailout for the political elite. The Office of Personnel Management announced—with no legal authority—that Congress could keep receiving its giant subsidies. Oh, and the OPM also declared that each member of Congress also gets to define which of his staff is covered by the law. Chances are many staffers will never have to deal with the exchanges at all.
This deal ought to have led to a wild GOP protest, both on philosophical and legal grounds. Instead, there has been nary a peep of complaint.
The charitable explanation is that the announcement came after Congress had left for recess, giving Republicans little opportunity to unify around a response. The less charitable explanation is that Republicans themselves are under huge pressure from their own staffers to shut up and keep the subsidies flowing.
Some members, like Arkansas’s Tim Griffin, went so far as to post on his Facebook page a “myth vs. fact” explanation (read: defense) of OPM’s ruling. The responses on his Facebook page were scathing.
Few things infuriate Americans more than special privileges for Washington. The public could not care less that insurance hikes might lead to a Washington “brain drain.” (Most would view that as progress.) Americans scrabbling for work, struggling to pay bills and facing soaring insurance premiums are not sympathetic to congressional complaints that the loss of their subsidies is unfair. As word has spread about the White House fix, a bipartisan fury has started to build at town-hall meetings, at rallies, and in letters and phone calls to Congress.
With a little fortitude, the GOP still has the opportunity to be on the right side of public opinion. The White House’s unilateral bailout is a tailor-made opportunity for the GOP to highlight, yet again, the administration’s unequal application of its flawed health law: waivers for Democratic union buddies, exemptions for big business, and now a special handout to Mr. Obama’s political class.
The special deal is also an opportunity to oppose, yet again, the White House’s extralegal actions.
Mostly, it is an opportunity to insist that Democrats either fully experience their experiment in social engineering—by living without subsidies within the ObamaCare exchanges they created—or give every other American relief. The reality is that Democrats, far more than Republicans, wanted this fix. They are terrified of their own creation. As leverage goes, there’s little to compare with Democratic self-interest.
Imagine forcing Democrats, daily, to justify this self-dealing—a gravy handout reviled equally by independent, Democratic and Republican voters. Imagine the House attaching to a must-pass piece of legislation, say, a provision that requires Congress and staffers and administration officials to live uniformly and subsidy-free in the ObamaCare exchanges, or give a pass to ordinary Americans. Let’s see Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid handle that one.
A handful of Republicans—Sens. David Vitter and Mike Enzi, and Reps. Ron DeSantis and Shelley Moore Capito—are already calling for action. Any of their legislative approaches might serve as a starting point for a broader effort.
Of course, for Republicans to take this route, they’d have to risk their own self-interest. The GOP is currently sniping over who has more “principles” in the fight against ObamaCare. Those advocating a defund provision for the law this fall seem willing to hold hostage the economy and American households as part of a shutdown fight.
Yet nothing would make a greater statement about principles than a GOP willingness to first hold its own financial self-interest hostage in a fight. If Republicans want to show that they “stand for something,” this is it. If they really are willing to do “whatever it takes” to oppose this law, there would be no more meaningful way to prove it.
A version of this article appeared August 30, 2013, on page A11 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: A Test of GOP Resolve on ObamaCare.
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