- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 29, 2016

President Obama’s pick to lead the federal personnel office won’t get a vote until the Congress cancels its special access to Obamacare health plans, Sen. David Vitter said Wednesday in a rebuke of his colleagues from the chamber floor.

Mr. Vitter, the Louisiana Republican who is retiring at the end of this year, is using his senatorial privileges to put a hold on Beth Cobert’s nomination as director the Office of Personnel Management.

That’s because he objects to a decision by OPM and Congress to carve a loophole into the Affordable Care Act, which required Capitol Hill lawmakers and staff to use the law’s web-based exchanges for health coverage they get through their jobs.

The OPM rule from 2013 deemed Congress a small business, making lawmakers and employees eligible to buy plans on the D.C. health exchange but keep the generous government subsidy that covers most of the cost of premiums.

“They made a determined effort to find a way to protect themselves. This was a bipartisan, bicameral effort that ultimately led to Washington’s Obamacare exemption,” Mr. Vitter said.

At the time, lawmakers defended the rule by saying rising health costs would cause a “brain drain” of key staff members from Capitol Hill.

Yet forcing members — themselves — to live under the same rules as everyday Americans would be both fair and practical, according to Mr. Vitter.

He filed a bill Wednesday that would require lawmakers, the president and vice president to get their insurance through an Obamacare exchange without any employer subsidy. It leaves staff alone.

“When you make the chef eat his own cooking, I can tell you that it gets better, and in a hurry,” he said. “Congress can only be an effective, responsive, truly representative legislative body when it lives under the same laws it imposes on the rest of the country.”

His hold on Ms. Cobert isn’t sitting well with Republican and Democratic leaders on the House oversight committee, who’ve said she would be a qualified and competent leader at an agency that was rocked by a massive data breach last year.

But Mr. Vitter says he won’t back down until OPM provides documents that explain how Congress, which employs thousands, was deemed a small business and then reverses course on the carveout.

“I am not blocking Ms. Cobert’s nomination because she is unqualified for the position, but because OPM is the perpetrator of Washington’s Obamacare exemption,” he said.

OPM has defended its Obamacare rule, saying the decision to push lawmakers into the D.C. small business exchange makes sense because Congress is located in the District.

Mr. Vitter said he forfeited his own employer subsidy by signing up on Louisiana’s health exchange through HealthCare.gov.

“It definitely costs me and my family more money,” he said, “but that’s what the law says we have to do.”

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

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