- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Senate Republicans adopted a proposal Wednesday that compels each of their staff members to get their health insurance through the Obamacare marketplace.

Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana proposed the nonbinding rule to the Senate Republican Conference to make sure his colleagues designated every staffer on Capitol Hill as “official,” therefore making them have to buy insurance on the Affordable Care Act’s health exchanges.

The resolution, which passed by voice vote with no “nays,” challenges Democrats to do the same.

“Republican senators made a strong, principled statement today in passing my resolution,” Mr. Vitter said. “Washington should have to live under Obamacare just like everybody else until we repeal it. And we won’t be complicit in Obama’s illegal rule designed to protect Washington insiders.”

The move contrasts with the House side, where Republicans last month rejected their version of the proposal to make all lawmakers list their employees as official.

Congress is trying to tread a fine line between political optics and pleasing their staff members, many of whom have insurance under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program used by other government employees and have balked at having to buy coverage on Obamacare’s exchanges.

Some senators only put their personal office staff on the exchange, while others designate their committee staffers and leadership staffers “official,” making them have to comply as well.

Lawmakers don’t even have to disclose to the public which path they take — something Mr. Vitter would like to change through legislation.

When debating the Affordable Care Act, senators were challenged by Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, to live under the same rules they were writing for everyone else. The “Grassley amendment” passed but has proved messy to implement.

Members feared staff would leave if their health costs rose under the provision, yet they were afraid of publicly carving themselves out of a law with sweeping ramifications for their constituents.

The Obama administration issued regulations last fall that let lawmakers and staff continue to collect a federal subsidy that pays up to 75 percent of their health premiums if they buy insurance on a D.C. exchange.

Mr. Vitter wants to cancel that subsidy and force members, staff and top officials in the executive branch to use the Obamacare exchange without benefits that regular Americans will not see.

The resolution adopted Wednesday does not address the employer subsidy.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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