- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Sen. David Vitter said Wednesday he will not lift his hold on President Obama’s pick to lead the federal personnel office because the agency continues to let members of Congress use an Obamacare exchange while receiving a generous employer subsidy, an option that regular Americans don’t have.

And he believes that Congress, under both Republican and Democratic leadership, has been “fully complicit in this fraud.”

Mr. Vitter, Louisiana Republican, has been on a one-man crusade since late 2013 to shed light on how Congress dealt with an amendment to the Affordable Care Act that required members of Congress and their official staffers to buy insurance on the law’s health exchanges.

The administration —through the Office of Personnel Management —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.

Outraged by the carve-out, Mr. Vitter used his senatorial privileges to place a hold on acting OPM Director Beth F. Cobert’s nomination because he still doesn’t understand why Congress was granted small-business status to use the D.C. exchange for employers of 50 or fewer workers, even though it employs thousands.

Mr. Vitter’s office released applications from House and Senate personnel offices that attest they “employ 50 or fewer full-time equivalent employees,” though the names of employees who signed the forms are redacted.

“This is an outrageous act of fraud,” Mr. Vitter said in a letter to fellow senators. “And the OPM rule is patently illegal. It’s all exactly the sort of Washington insider self-dealing that Americans are so sick and tired of.”

He said he cannot lift his hold on Ms. Cobert because she has supported the OPM rule and “has indicated that she would continue to do so if confirmed.”

OPM has defended the 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 Obamacare.

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

But Mr. Vitter said the language and intent of the Obamacare amendment “were crystal-clear: Congress should live under the same laws it passes on everyone else, in this case those Americans on the Obamacare exchange.”

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

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