Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid opened floor debate on Tuesday by calling out "misguided Republicans" who want to eliminate a traditional employer subsidy that offsets the costs of health care for members of Congress and their staffs, arguing it is another attempt to derail President Obama's health care law.
"It's time for Republicans to mature," the Nevada Democrat said. "I guess you could say it in a different way, 'To grow up.'"
Mr. Reid referred to the GOP lawmaker leading the charge —Sen. David Vitter — both by name and as the "junior senator from Louisiana."
Mr. Vitter has said it was unfair for the Office of Personnel Management to decide that denizens of Capitol Hill can keep an employer contribution that offset up to 75 percent of their health care premiums, since a provision in the Affordable Care Act now requires them to acquire health coverage on state insurance markets, or exchanges, tied to the law.
He has introduced an amendment to an energy bill up for debate this week that would also force the president, vice president and political appointees into the exchanges and forbid all of them from getting a better taxpayer subsidy than they would normally receive on the state exchange.
"The governor should live by the same rules as the governed, across the board," Mr. Vitter said in floor debate Tuesday.
In his remarks, Mr. Reid said Mr. Vitter is going out of his way to harm lawmakers' staff members, many of whom would pay a lot more out of their salaries to keep up with their health premiums.
He noted it would be unusual for lawmakers and staff to lose their traditional health care subsidy, since the state exchanges were designed for people without employer-based insurance.
"Although Senator Vitter has happily allowed the federal government to pay for a portion of his health insurance for many, many years, as a member of the House of Representatives and as a member of the Senate, now he wants to force these 16,000 congressional workers to cover the full cost of their health insurance," Mr. Reid said.
Congressional lawmakers and staff find themselves in this position because Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, offered an amendment during debate over Obamacare that would force them to experience the exchanges they were setting up for everyday folks.
Although it might have been offered to prove a point, Democrats accepted the measure.
Now that the exchanges will begin enrollment Oct. 1, the federal personnel office decided to let Capitol Hill keep their subsidies when they buy insurance on the exchanges in their home states.
Mr. Vitter accused his colleagues of "scurrying" and "scheming" to get the Obama administration to preserve their generous subsidy.
He also accused the Obama administration of using administrative "fiat" to change the health care law as they see fit.
"That's wrong, that's illegal and that demands action," he said.
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