- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 25, 2016

Sen. David Vitter followed through Thursday on his threat to hold up President Obama’s pick to lead the government’s personnel office, saying he still doesn’t understand why Congress was granted small-business status that “exempted” it from Obamacare, even though it employs thousands.

The Louisiana Republican told acting Office of Personnel Management Director Beth F. Cobert that he used his senatorial privileges to place a formal hold on her nomination as permanent director, because she failed to respond to his queries.

The Affordable Care Act required members of Congress and their official staffers to buy insurance on the law’s health exchanges, but the Obama administration — through OPM — decided in 2013 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.

For months, Mr. Vitter has asked OPM to explain its rationale for deeming Congress small enough to use D.C.’s “SHOP” exchange for employers of 50 workers or less.

“As much as federal bureaucrats enjoy hiding behind layers of red tape, we have now reached the point where OPM can no longer avoid explaining how Congress was allowed to purchase health insurance as a small business — when it clearly is not,” Mr. Vitter said in a statement. “Ms. Cobert’s nomination will not move forward in any capacity until the American people have received answers as to why Washington’s Obamacare exemption exists.”

Leaders on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform rejected Mr. Vitter’s stance at a hearing Thursday.

Chairman Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, said Ms. Cobert would be a “breath of fresh air” for the agency, which was rocked by a massive data breach last year.

Ranking member Elijah Cummings, Maryland Democrat, called the senator’s hold “outrageous.”

OPM has defended its Obamacare rule, saying it made sense to use a SHOP to administer what amounted to an employer-based contribution to members’ health care, while shepherding members into an exchange as required by the 2010 health overhaul.

The agency said it picked D.C.’s portal simply because Congress is located in the District of Columbia.

Last week, Mr. Vitter said Capitol Hill lawmakers and staff were receiving tax-reporting forms that describe Congress as a large employer subject to the health care law’s “employer mandate.”

He said Congress “can’t have it both ways,” and he would like to know if the disconnect amounts to a violation of the tax code.

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

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