Senate Dems: No Health Benefits For Senators Who Hire Prostitutes

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., speaks during an election night party in Kenner, La., Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010, after defeating Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-La., for a second term in office. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) AP

Senate Democrats are playing the “hookers” card.

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) has been tying up the Senate this week as he pushes an amendment that would bar the federal government from making payments toward health insurance that members of Congress buy in the Obamacare exchanges. Vitter has been trying to attach the proposal to an unrelated bill on energy efficiency.

Politico reports that Democrats have a response: If Vitter keeps pushing his amendment, they might advance one that strips the government contribution toward health benefits for any senator or congressman if the Ethics Committee has “probable cause to determine” that he (or, I suppose, she) hired a prostitute.

Vitter faced a scandal in 2007 when his phone number was found among the records of the so-called “D.C. Madam,” Deborah Jeane Palfrey, who ran a high-end prostitution service. Vitter admitted that he committed a “very serious sin.” He was never prosecuted.

Vitter’s amendment pertains to the interpretation of the Grassley Amendment to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which forces members of Congress and their staff to buy health insurance through the Obamacare exchanges rather than receiving health plans directly from their employer. Grassley offered this amendment as an exercise in political point-scoring and then Democrats unexpectedly agreed to incorporate it into the bill.

The problem arising from the Grassley amendment is that it was unclear whether the government could continue to make a tax-free contribution toward the cost of congressional employee health benefits even if they were bought through the exchange. If such a contribution were disallowed, the Grassley Amendment would be tantamount to a large reduction in compensation for members of Congress and their staff. Earlier this year, the Office of Personnel Managment controversially ruled that such a contribution is legal.

Democrats should be careful what they wish for with the hookers amendment. Like the Grassley Amendment, Republicans could end up agreeing to make it law, triggering a wave of Ethics Committee investigations of members of both parties, and adding one further silly wrinkle of complication to Obamacare.