- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sen. David Vitter this week will reignite his one-man crusade to find out how Congress managed to “exempt” itself from Obamacare by keeping an employer subsidy that everyday Americans cannot enjoy under the 2010 health overhaul.

Mr. Vitter, Louisiana Republican and chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee, warned acting administrator Beth F. Cobert on Tuesday that her predecessor at the Office of Personnel Management refused to give him documents that fully explained how the Congress had been deemed a small business — and therefore eligible to use D.C.’s “SHOP” exchange for employers of 50 workers or less.

“You well know that the Congress has more than 16,000 employees,” Mr. Vitter said in his letter to Ms. Cobert.

Ms. Cobert is scheduled to appear before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on Thursday for her confirmation hearing.

“Should you or anyone within the Executive Office of the President, wish to see the nomination move forward, I will be happy to oblige and help facilitate upon a complete and full response to the requested information now pending for over two years,” Mr. Vitter wrote, a sign he might attempt to block her confirmation if he doesn’t get what he wants.

The Affordable Care Act required members of Congress and their official staffers to buy insurance on the exchanges, but the Obama administration —through OPM —decided that if they used the D.C. small-business exchange, they could still get their employer subsidies to cover premiums.

Regular Americans who buy plans through the exchange are restricted from having employers contribute to their premiums.

The disconnect has caused some conservatives to object that D.C. insiders granted themselves special favors.

Mr. Vitter will not seek re-election this year after losing his gubernatorial bid back home to Democrat John Bel Edwards. It appears that hasn’t dissuaded him from getting to the bottom of the “Obamacare exemption,” even if it makes his colleagues uncomfortable.

Mr. Vitter fumed last April, when five of his Republican colleagues on the Small Business Committee voted with Democrats to reject his bid to subpoena OPM for details about its decision to retain the federal subsidy for members of Congress.

“Such a subsidy is not available to other Americans who purchase their health insurance on a federal or state based exchange as the ACA mandated,” he wrote Tuesday. “Therefore this amounts to a special exemption for Congress.”

Lawmakers have approached Obamacare’s provision in different ways. Some routed their coverage through their home states to shun the subsidy that constituents cannot get, while others hold insurance from sources unrelated to their jobs — eliminating their obligation to use the exchanges.

The issue is a sensitive one, since it involves lawmakers’ choices on health coverage and their personal finances. The debate also roped in staff members, prompting some would fear a “brain drain” on Capitol Hill if young, talented workers lost their subsidy and found work elsewhere.

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

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