Vitter Amendment – A Pill Too Vitter To Swallow

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The Cruz crowd loves easy and deceptive talking points especially when they vilify two things simultaneously.  The so-called Congressional exemption in the Affordable Act  is one of those talking points.  It vilifies access to healthcare and government employees at the same time. The Republican “solution” to the non-existent government exemption from the ACA  actually creates a government exemption from the ACA.

The Vitter Amendment is the latest optical illusion brought to you by the Tea Party.

Superficially, Vitter and the Cruz crowd are right.  Employees of Congress are treated differently than people who work for large employers in the private sector.  That’s where the truth ends and the lies begin.  Congress is not exempt from the Affordable Care Act as Vitter and the Tea Party claim. Unlike other employees,  Congressman and their staff have to buy their health insurance through the exchanges.  In all other respects, the government as a large employer is treated exactly as any other large employer in the United States.

Like other workers, people who work for congress have employer based health insurance plans.  Like other employees, government workers including those who work for congress pay a part of their insurance premiums and their employer (the government) pays the rest.

John Hudak of the Brookings Institute explains the intricacies between provisions in the Affordable Care Act and a regulation by the Office of Personnel Management in detail. The bottom line is the ACA and the OPM regulation require Congressman and their staff to buy health insurance on the Exchanges and the government has to pay a share of its employees’ premiums.

There are two key provisions in the Vitter Amendment.  The first extends the ACA requirement that Congress and its staff must buy insurance on the exchange to include the President, the Vice President and political appointees.

The other component removes the employer contribution that the OPM maintains, meaning Vitter’s Amendent does the complete opposite of it’s claimed objective.

By removing the employer contribution, the Vitter Amendment sticks it to congressional staff because this amounts to a huge pay cut. One Congressional staffer whose after tax income is $22,800 a year, estimates that the Vitter amendment would cost her $600 a month, or roughly a third of her income.

As Hudak explains this affects senior staff however, it kicks people with lower incomes and fewer options the hardest.

Junior staffers—staff assistants, legislative coordinators, etc.—are paid the least and have fewer alternative employment options, when compared to their senior colleagues. They are hardworking individuals who often spend their days dealing with angry constituents.The Vitter Amendment targets this group the most. Unlike others who work for large employers they will receive no employer contribution for health care.

The Vitter Amendment also demoralizes staff  and establishes a disincentive for people to enter public service.  Several congressional staffers from both parties told the New Yorker in emails, they’ll be looking for a different job if the Vitter Amendment becomes law.

The bottom line is the Vitter Amendment is a lie, just like everything else the Tea Party Republicans do.

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