- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sen. David Vitter redoubled his efforts to expose and undo Congress‘ “exemption” from Obamacare Thursday, saying he will hold up one of President Obama’s nominees until he gets to the bottom of a health care deal he said gave members of Congress special treatment under the health law.

The Louisiana Republican told Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta that he will block the nomination of Earl L. Gay, whom Mr. Obama tapped to be Ms. Archuleta’s deputy, until he gets “thorough and complete” responses to his inquiries.

Mr. Vitter wants to know why Congress continued to give lawmakers and staff subsidies to buy insurance on the health exchanges, while average Americans were prohibited from enrolling if their employers subsidized their coverage. The senator also wants to know why OPM allowed Congress to use a D.C. health exchange designed for small businesses.

“Allowing Congress, which employs nearly 16,000 people, to determine itself as a ‘small business’ should not have passed the common sense test. Unfortunately, it appears that the White House, and in particular, OPM, may have had some role in this,” said Mr. Vitter, who is running this year to succeed Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

OPM didn’t respond to a request for comment on Mr. Vitter’s hold — a legislative tactic that signals the senator would object to any effort to speed a vote on Mr. Gay’s nomination. To overcome a hold, Republican leaders would have to force a filibuster vote, which is unlikely.

Mr. Vitter has become a chief critic of Obamacare and how Congress has treated itself under the law, which required members of Congress and staff members who want insurance through their jobs to join the same health exchanges the law imposed on millions of other Americans. In particular, he objects to Congress paying 75 percent of the premiums for lawmakers and aides — a benefit unavailable to other exchange customers.

SEE ALSO: Obama admin takes victory lap over Obamacare figures after signup deadline

On Thursday Mr. Vitter released letters from congressional and D.C. government officials explaining their decision-making on selecting the D.C. exchange.

The Senate Disbursing Office said the decision was open and transparent, and that its office never provided “any party with misleading information.” The D.C. exchange said it was following its understanding of the federal law. And House officials stiff-armed Mr. Vitter’s inquiry, saying he has no jurisdiction on their side of the Capitol.

Mr. Vitter demanded better answers by next Tuesday.

Congress is walking a fine line between political optics and pleasing their staff members, many of whom don’t want to give up their insurance under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

Fearing good staffers would leave, some lawmakers designated only some of their employees as “official.” Workers who aren’t deemed official are still allowed to keep their old coverage, which is considered generous.

At Mr. Vitter’s insistence, Senate Republicans voted in December to require all of their staffers to sign up for insurance on the health care exchanges.

House Republicans, however, rejected a similar move.

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