The Big Think

March 23, 2010

Take Your Own Medicine

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:48 pm

GOP members propose an amendment to the health care bill. Specifically, it is

“an amendment that would require the president, vice-president, members of Congress, political appointees and congressional staff to get their federal health benefits through the soon-to-be-created health insurance exchanges.”

(link) The specifics of the bill contain language that exempt our leaders from the new legislation.

“President Obama has publicly advertised that his reforms would give members of the public the same coverage available to Members of Congress,” reads a GOP summary of the Grassley measure. “This amendment would ensure that he, his successors, and all his appointed political officials would also have the same coverage members of the public enrolled in the Exchange receive.”

Democratic leaders are expected to vote no on the proposed amendment.

Yes, it is political theater on the part of the GOP, but even granting that, I can’t imagine any American disagreeing with the principal of the amendment. Put aside the odd diplomatic immunity law and park-where-you-want quirks, I am trying to understand why it is in any way acceptable for our leaders to be exempt from the laws that they write for the citizens.


  1. But that’s based on a misunderstanding about the bill itself: the whole point is that *everyone* gets to keep whatever insurance plan they’re on. (This is why the bill itself is not as much a Democratic one as a Republican one, resembling greatly ones proposed by Eisenhower and Nixon, and, most recently, put into effect to enormously good result by Mitt Romney in Massachussetts.)

    They weren’t forced to be on Medicaid from the 60s until today, either: it’s a measure designed specifically for those who can’t afford it. Meanwhile the rest of us get to stay with whatever plan we’re on if we’d like.

    Comment by barrybrake — March 24, 2010 @ 3:14 pm

  2. Wrong, Barry. You’re falling prey to a commonly held meme. According to

    “A major story during the course of the health care debate was whether members of Congress would commit to placing themselves in the same health care exchanges as average citizens, or whether they would hang on to their government plans — that’s why leadership chose to add this portion to the bill, serving as a guarantee that members would participate in the same health plans as the people. Here’s the relevant text:


    (i) REQUIREMENT- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, after the effective date of this subtitle, the only health plans that the Federal Government may make available to Members of Congress and congressional staff with respect to their service as a Member of Congress or congressional staff shall be health plans that are–

    (I) created under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act); or

    (II) offered through an Exchange established under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act).

    But as with a lot of legislative matters, the devil is in the details — or in this case, the definitions. As anyone who’s worked on Capitol Hill knows, the personal office staff for a member is governed by different rules than those who work on committees and in the leadership offices. It appears from the way this language is written that those staffers NOT in personal offices, such as those working and paid under the committee structure (such as those working for Chairman Henry Waxman) or those working on leadership staff (such as those working for Speaker Nancy Pelosi) would be exempt from these requirements.

    (ii) DEFINITIONS- In this section:

    (I) MEMBER OF CONGRESS- The term `Member of Congress’ means any member of the House of Representatives or the Senate.

    (II) CONGRESSIONAL STAFF- The term `congressional staff’ means all full-time and part-time employees employed by the official office of a Member of Congress, whether in Washington, DC or outside of Washington, DC.”

    According to the Congressional Research Service, this definition of staff will only apply to those staffers employed within a member’s “personal office” — meaning that it will absolutely not apply to committee staff members, and may not apply to leadership staff.

    This problem was acknowledged earlier in the process — last year, Senator Grassley tried to repair it, but he was rebuffed.

    As Speaker Pelosi said a few weeks ago, it’s only after this legislation is passed that we’ll truly find out what’s in it.”

    So while it’s true that congress as a whole isn’t exempt, that the staffers who wrote the language carved out a bit of it for themselves. The GOP is attempted to point this out and get the legislation changed (remember Pelosi and Obama’s assurance that they’d clean up the bill after it was signed into law?), but so far they’ve refused, and have only turned around and accused the GOP of stalling tactics.

    Comment by jasony — March 24, 2010 @ 7:00 pm

  3. But then again I’m exempted from it and so are you, and so is anyone who doesn’t want to (or need to) make use of the exchange clause. Again: these guys don’t have to use Medicaid either… they don’t need it.

    Comment by barrybrake — March 25, 2010 @ 12:18 am

  4. Ah! From Politifact:

    Members of Congress are offered insurance through their employer, which in this case is the federal government. They can purchase it through the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan, which is offered to all federal employees…. Under the plan, federal workers — and members of Congress — can choose from a variety of insurance plans just as people would in the new health care exchange.

    There’s nothing in the health care bills that exempts Congress from the same requirements as regular citizens.

    Under the bill, the lawmakers would continue to receive the same insurance they get now, just as most Americans would.

    Members of Congress are treated like any other citizens under the terms of the bill.

    So, these objections from others seem to be held over from the days when a public option was being discussed, and they seem to be based on the idea that the new bill is forcing people into one plan or the other (and not just forcing them to *have* a plan, like Texas forces us to have insurance). No other American is being made to drop their current coverage; why should a member of Congress?

    Comment by barrybrake — March 25, 2010 @ 12:44 am

  5. Sigh.

    Quoted again:

    “it will absolutely not apply to committee staff members, and may not apply to leadership staff.”

    end quote

    Thus we continue the culture of “you pick your truth and I’ll pick mine.” Perhaps you’d like to go on television or the radio and argue with the professional lawyers and bill-readers to convince them of the error of their ways. (yeah, yeah, “appeal to authority”. Whatever). For me, I’m not going to argue with someone who enjoys it so much and beat my head against the wall if we can’t even agree on the meaning of the plain language. I’m done.

    Comment by jasony — March 25, 2010 @ 9:30 am

  6. I wouldn’t say either of us was picking a truth, but I would point out that the original language you quote is that the *definition of staff* will not apply, not that the bill itself will not apply. The whole sentence as you quote it above is:

    this definition of staff will only apply to those staffers employed within a member’s “personal office” — meaning that it will absolutely not apply to committee staff members, and may not apply to leadership staff.

    I’m picking your truth here, but just reading the grammar right.

    Of course (a truth we can both easily point to), the convoluted language in the thousands of pages of this bill is of no help at all.

    I’d love to see a quote from the actual bill, though, that says that it somehow “exempts” Congress. I’ve clicked around a lot, and can’t find even one: I’d even love to know, in the absence of a public option, what it means to “exempt” Congress. I really think this objection is carried over from some previous version that would have forced all Americans onto some program or other.

    Now that this one is here, forcing people only so far as to have insurance, of whichever type they choose, are we saying Congress is not required to have any health care plan? They most certainly are. Are we saying they’re not required to go on public assistance? Of course they’re not, because they’re well salaried and don’t need public assistance any more than they need food stamps.

    You’re right that I do love to debate issues, but my fervor should count for something: it shouldn’t be this hard for someone of my energies to find primary evidence (language in the bill itself) that points to the idea that Congress is making everyone else do something they themselves aren’t required to do.

    Meanwhile, I’d be very interested in finding common ground here. I bet we can find it. First of all, I think we’d both agree that the bill is far from perfect, and adds layer upon layer of apparatus that will, of course, be paid for by the taxpayer, while enriching big insurance companies. Politicians seem to be getting better and better at selling their souls in exchange for *losing* the world.

    In a year or so, we may both find ourselves in the same boat, as self-employed composers. Either that will be a good boat or a bad one (or somewhere in between). Having looked into it a bit, I’d say there’s a real possibility that we could both catch a bit of a deal, because the bill does provide some breaks for the self-employed. That’s something we’ll have to see.

    Comment by barrybrake — March 28, 2010 @ 4:38 pm

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