The House of Representatives is
preparing to sendanother continuing resolution to the Senate with provisions that make it dead on arrival.
Having been denied their proposal to defund Obamacare completely, their new plan would delay the law for one year and repeal the medical device tax it contains.
But National Review’s Robert Costa reports that House leadership is already discussing a Plan C for when the Senate rejects today’s plan: passing a continuing resolution that funds Obamacare but includes the so-called Vitter Amendment.
That amendment would bar the federal government from providing subsidies to help members of Congress and their staff pay for health plans in the Obamacare exchanges.
Coupled with the existing Grassley Amendment to the Affordable Care Act (which forces Congress and its staff off the Federal Employee Health Benefit plan and into the exchanges), this amounts to a pay cut of several thousand dollars a year for most people who work for Congress.
This idea is bizarre, for two reasons.
One: Three weeks ago, Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor tried to get House Republicans behind a plan that would have forced the Senate to take a vote on funding Obamacare but kept the government open even if the Senate chose to keep Obamacare funded. They couldn’t get enough Republican votes to pass this plan because conservative Republicans (correctly) called it out as a gimmick that wouldn’t defund Obamacare.
If an otherwise-clean continuing resolution with the Vitter Amendment attached is adopted, congressional staff pay will be cut, but Obamacare implementation will continue as scheduled. Why would the anti-Obamacare dead-enders consider that to be any more acceptable than the approach they rejected three weeks ago? I am very sceptical that Boehner can get the votes for this in the House.
Two: Let’s say this plan does pass the House. Republicans seem focused on the idea that this will be a tough vote for Senate Democrats. If Democrats refuse to take up a CR with the Vitter Amendment, or if they strip out the amendment and send it back to the House, “Republicans would argue that Democrats shut down the government to protect their perks,” as Costa puts it.
But what if Senate Democrats just agree to the CR with the Vitter Amendment and it becomes law? That’s a disaster for Republicans.
House Republican staffers are already furious with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and the outside conservative groups that have forced them to turn these CR negotiations into a fight over Obamacare. News reports over the past two weeks have been filled with anonymous GOP staff quotes attacking Cruz. Cruz even mocked his House Republican staff detractors during his 21-hour floor speech, noting “There is no courage like the courage in Washington of the anonymous congressional staffer.”
If a CR with the Vitter Amendment becomes law, the upshot will be that Cruz hijacked the House’s legislative process over the CR, Obamacare is still being funded, and all Republicans have to show for it is a staff pay cut of several thousand dollars. That will not help to calm the already-ongoing civil war within the congressional GOP.
Of course, Democratic staff will also be angry about having their pay cut. But they will have a common enemy (the Republicans) and a plausible legislative strategy (repeal the Vitter Amendment). Republicans will try to direct staff anger toward the Democrats, but the name of the person responsible is right there on the amendment: Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), one of Cruz’s allies in the defunding fight.
Republican members will be left saying the way to fix the pay issue is to repeal Obamacare. But the whole reason House Republican leadership and staff were resisting the Cruz approach on the CR is that they know repealing Obamacare while Barack Obama is president is a fantasy. In other words, Republican members will be saying they have no plan to undo the pay cut they “won” for their staff.
The Vitter Amendment is one of those proposals that’s only useful as a talking point. Vitter has been prattling on about how there is a “special Obamacare exemption” for Congress that his amendment would fix. That’s not true, as National Review’s Jonathan Strong points out, but truth is rarely an important factor in Republican health policy talking points. If Vitter’s proposal actually becomes law, Republicans will lose their talking point and gain a very unhappy employee base.
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