WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate tonight rejected an amendment offered by Senator Chuck Grassley to apply the new health care law to the President, Vice President, cabinet members, top White House staff, and the congressional staff who drafted the proposal.
"As a result, President Obama will not have to live under the Obama health care reforms, and neither will the congressional staff who helped to write the overhaul," Grassley said. "The message to the people at the grassroots is that it's good enough for you, but not for us."
Grassley said congressional leaders have had other opportunities to fix the double standard but have repeatedly opted not to do so.
The health care reform that was enacted on Tuesday includes an amendment Grassley sponsored and got adopted by the Finance Committee, last September, to have members of Congress and their staffs get their health insurance through the same health insurance exchanges where health plans for the general public would be available. During subsequent closed-door work on a Senate health care bill, Senate committee and leadership staffs were removed from this requirement.
In December, Grassley and Senator Tom Coburn attempted to offer a floor amendment to restore the requirement, but the Senate Majority Leader would not let their amendment come up for a vote. In addition to Senate committee and leadership staff, the amendment Grassley and Coburn filed during the Senate debate would have made the President, the Vice President, top White House staff and cabinet members all get their health insurance through the newly created exchanges. It would not have applied to federal employees in the civil service.
Even after the issue was raised through the month of December, Senator Harry Reid's final manager's amendment to the health care reform bill passed by the Senate on Christ Eve still did not restore Grassley's original language, which the Finance Committee approved unanimously.
Grassley said, "It's only fair and logical that administration leaders and congressional staff, who fought so hard to overhaul of America's health care system, experience it themselves. If the reforms are as good as promised, then they'll know it first-hand. If there are problems, public officials will be in a position to really understand the problems, as they should."
Grassley said the motivation for his amendments is simple: public officials who make the laws or lead efforts to have laws changed should live under those laws. He offered the amendment that was rejected tonight to the reconciliation bill designed to make changes to the health care reforms that President Obama signed into law today.
"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. Before President Clinton signed into law Grassley's long-sought Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, Congress had routinely exempted itself.
The Congressional Accountability Act made Congress subject to 12 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.
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 it stands, thanks to Grassley's Finance Committee passed amendment, members of Congress and their personal staffs will be required to obtain their health insurance coverage through the newly created health care exchange. Members and personal staffs will only be able to use their employer contribution to buy health care coverage in the exchange. Individuals will receive an age-adjusted contribution from the Office of Personnel Management with which to purchase a plan.
However, because the Senate rejected the amendment offered by Grassley last December and tonight, committee and leadership staff in Congress, as well as the President, Vice President, the President's cabinet and White House staff, will continue to be exempt from many of the reforms facing the rest of the country.
Earlier today, the White House announced that the President planned to participate in the health insurance exchanges that the reform law will begin in 2014.
"This is effectively an endorsement of my amendment to make sure political leaders live under the laws they pass for everyone else, and I appreciate it," Grassley said. "The principle shouldn't be voluntary for political leaders, though."