Friday, October 19, 2012
Senator Chuck Grassley issued the comment below following a New York Times story today that a provision in the 2010 health care law is being distorted in fall campaign ads.
“Remember, it was Republicans who made this law apply to Congress, not the Democrats who wrote the law. The Democrats were perfectly fine with applying Obamacare to the entire economy but leaving themselves out. Despite passage of my amendment, Democrats still carved out exemptions for high-level staff, despite Republican efforts to undo the carve-outs, and Democrats refused to make Obamacare apply to the White House itself.”
The provision in question stemmed from an amendment Grassley authored and for which he won Finance Committee approval in September 2009. The Grassley amendment said that members of Congress and their staff must get their health insurance coverage from the exchanges that would be established in the health care overhaul. This congressional coverage initiative built on many years of work by Senator Grassley to have Congress live under the laws it passes for the rest of the country. In 1995, legislation authored by Grassley to apply 12 civil rights, labor and employment laws to Congress for the first time.
The story in today’s New York Times reports that TV commercials being run on behalf of Democratic candidates for Congress assert that members of Congress who voted to repeal the 2010 health care law have voted to give themselves taxpayer-funded health care for life.” Senator Grassley said his provision, even in the final form it took in the law that was enacted makes no changes to the employer contribution to federal employee health care coverage and no changes to federal retiree health care.
New York Times story:
Democrats Use Health Law to Assail Republicans
By ROBERT PEAR
Published: October 18, 2012
WASHINGTON — A little-noticed provision of the new health care law is causing big headaches for some members of Congress in this year’s elections. And it is likely to cause even bigger headaches for lawmakers next year.
The provision, written into the law at the behest of a Republican senator, says members of Congress must get their health benefits through new insurance exchanges being established in every state.
Republicans have voted repeatedly to repeal the whole law. Now, in a barrage of television ads, Democrats are roasting those Republicans, saying they voted to give themselves “taxpayer-funded health care for life.”
The accuracy of the commercials, judged even by the loose standards that often apply to political advertising, is open to question.
Democrats say the commercials are accurate. Under the law, they say, members of Congress would be removed from the federal program that provides health insurance to most federal employees and retirees. Repealing the law, they say, would restore that coverage.
Republicans say that the attacks are unfounded, and that the Democrats are misrepresenting the effect of the law on coverage for retired members of Congress.
In any event, the criticism, if it sticks, could be politically damaging. Lawmakers of both parties have often said their goal is to provide all Americans with health insurance as good as what Congress has.
In a typical ad, the campaign of Ann McLane Kuster, the Democratic candidate for Congress in the Second District of New Hampshire, says that Representative Charles Bass, the incumbent Republican, “voted to cut Medicare for you while voting himself taxpayer-funded health care for life.” In upstate New York, Dan Maffei, a Democrat, assails the Republican, Representative Ann Marie Buerkle, saying she tried to privatize Medicare while “voting herself a tax-subsidized health care plan that she will be eligible for even after she retires.”
Similar television advertisements have been run in California by Democrats trying to unseat Representatives Brian P. Bilbray and Mary Bono Mack, both Republicans.
In Michigan, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is running an advertisement that says Representative Dan Benishek, a Republican, “voted to give members of Congress taxpayer-funded health care for life.”
In another commercial, the committee says that Representative Tom Latham, Republican of Iowa, “voted himself taxpayer-funded health care for life,” but “wanted to gut Medicare, basically do away with it,” for older Americans.
House Majority PAC, a leading Democratic “super PAC,” has run advertisements saying that Representative Chip Cravaack, a freshman Republican from Minnesota, “voted to give members of Congress taxpayer-subsidized health care for life,” even as he tried to make older Americans pay more for their health care.
In an interview, Mr. Cravaack said the attack was based on “a deceitful stretch of the imagination,” and he asked: “How can you possibly think that repealing Obamacare would provide me with health care for life? I do not understand the correlation.”
However, Andy Stone, a spokesman for House Majority PAC, defended the commercials.
“The ads show the hypocrisy of Republicans who want to protect their health insurance while eliminating protections for people with pre-existing conditions and for children who want to stay on their parents’ insurance to age 26,” Mr. Stone said.
Jesse F. Ferguson, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said, “It’s no surprise Republicans don’t like us pointing out the truth — that their vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act would reinstate the perk of taxpayer-funded government health care for members of Congress.”
Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, proposed the original requirement for lawmakers to get coverage through insurance exchanges. He has long said that “Congress should live under the same laws it passes for the rest of the country.”
The television ads are based on two premises: that members of Congress now have taxpayer-financed coverage for life, and that the 2010 health care law will eliminate it.
The facts are more complicated than the ads.
Members of Congress and retired members are eligible for insurance coverage under the same system as other federal employees. This system, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, covers eight million federal workers, retirees and dependents.
The 2010 health care law says that the only health plans available to members of Congress, as a benefit of their employment, are health plans created under the law or offered through insurance exchanges.
The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, an arm of the Library of Congress, says this section of the law implies that members of Congress “will no longer be eligible to enroll” in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.
That raises vexing questions for lawmakers. Under the program for federal employees, the government pays a hefty share of the premiums: 72 percent, on average. Will this money still be available to help pay premiums when members of Congress get coverage through the exchanges, starting in 2014?
The government contribution averages more than $10,000 a year for family coverage and more than $4,500 for individual coverage.
In writing the legislation, members of Congress apparently assumed that the federal contribution to their premiums would continue, but the law is silent on the question.
Though the law generally requires members of Congress and certain Congressional aides to get their coverage through insurance exchanges, it says nothing about retiree health benefits.
How the new law affects retiree benefits is unclear, say lawyers at the Congressional Research Service and at the Committee on House Administration, which is responsible for bills affecting lawmakers’ pay and benefits.
Federal employees can often keep their coverage in retirement if they have been continuously enrolled in the federal employees health program for five years immediately before retiring.
Without getting into the fine points of health policy, Democrats are unleashing more ads. One says that Representative Sean P. Duffy, Republican of Wisconsin, voted to “give Congress taxpayer-funded health care for life.”
Justin Richards, the manager of the Duffy campaign, said: “Sean Duffy doesn’t get health care for life, not even close. His health care is the same as any federal employee from the F.B.I. agent to the park ranger.”
A version of this article appeared in print on October 19, 2012, on page A18 of The New York Times
Description of Grassley effort to apply health care law to Congress:
For Immediate Release
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Grassley re-introduces bill to apply health care reforms
to White House and administration leaders, and equitably in Congress
WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley today renewed his effort to apply the health care reform law to the President, Vice President, cabinet members, top White House staff, and the congressional staff who worked for passage of the massive overhaul enacted in March 2010.
Previous legislative initiatives by Grassley to establish accountability in Congress and the administration were rebuffed, both in 2009 and 2010, by the Democratic Majority Leader in the Senate. “As a result, the health care reforms driven by President Obama and Senator Reid do not apply to President Obama and top administration officials or to the powerful congressional leadership staff who helped to make the overhaul the law of the land,” Grassley said. “The message to grassroots America is that health care reform is good enough for you, but not for us.”
Grassley said that now that a new Congress has started, Senate leaders have another chance to make things right and should act immediately to pass his Health Reform Accountability Act. “Until the health care overhaul is repealed and replaced with reforms that have broad-based support, the majority leadership in the Senate and the administration ought to make sure they are required to live under the health care law they put on the books.”
Grassley started his accountability effort in September 2009, when the Finance Committee, where he served as Ranking Member, was acting on its reform proposal. Committee members approved a Grassley amendment to have members of Congress and all congressional staff obtain their health insurance through the same health insurance exchanges where health plans for the general public would be available. After the bill left committee and during the closed-door reworking of the legislation in the Senate Majority Leader’s office, Senate committee and leadership staffs were exempted from the requirement.
In December 2010, when the carve-out was discovered, Grassley and Senator Tom Coburn offered an amendment to restore the requirement for all congressional staff and also to statutorily require the President, the Vice President, top White House staff and cabinet members to get their health insurance through the newly created exchanges. The amendment did not apply to federal employees in the civil service. The Grassley-Coburn amendment was never brought up for a vote. The legislative fix also was not included in the final manager’s amendment, controlled by the Senate Majority Leader, on Christmas Eve, when the Senate passed the legislation that ultimately became law. Grassley made another attempt to have the special carve-out removed during Senate consideration of the health-care reconciliation bill in March 2010. Again, he was rebuffed. Grassley filed the same free-standing legislation introduced today immediately following final passage, but it has never been brought up by the Senate Majority Leader, who controls the calendar and Senate business.
Grassley said the motivation for his initiative is simple: public officials who make the laws or lead efforts to have laws changed should live under those laws. “It’s the same principle that motivated me to pursue legislation over 20 years ago to apply civil rights, labor and employment laws to Congress,” Grassley said.
That previous Grassley crusade met success in 1995, when President Clinton signed into law Grassley’s Congressional Accountability Act. Before then, Congress had routinely exempted itself from major laws, including the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Veteran’s Employment and Reemployment Rights at Chapter 43 of Title 38 of the U.S. Code, and the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1989. All 12 of those laws now apply to Congress, thanks to Grassley’s reform legislation.
Today, Grassley also is working to make sure Congress lives up to the same standards it imposes on others with legislation such as his Congressional Whistleblower Protection Act.
As far as the health care law, as it stands today, because of the amendment Grassley included in the Finance Committee bill, at least members of Congress and their personal office staffs will be required to obtain their health insurance coverage through the newly created health care exchanges, when the law takes full effect in 2014, instead of the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program.
In March 2010, the White House announced that the President planned to participate in the health insurance exchanges in 2014. Grassley said at the time that the move effectively endorsed his legislation. “I appreciate it, but the principle of living under the law shouldn’t be voluntary for political leaders.”
The companion bill to the legislation filed today by Grassley was introduced last week in the House of Representatives by Representative Michael Burgess of Texas. It’s H.R.360.