Obamacare: “This is not anything we spent time talking about here in the House.”

July 30th, 2013

The Times reports on a “wrinkle” (to put it mildly) in the Affordable Care Act, whereby members of Congress and their personal staffs can no longer obtain health insurance from the federal government (as do all federal employees), but must now go onto the exchanges–and to boot, there are no subsidies for these workers. Why wasn’t this “wrinkle” ironed out?

Ask Diana DeGette (D. Co.) who voted for the Affordable Care Act:

Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado, said the Senate was responsible for the provision requiring lawmakers and many aides to get insurance in the exchanges.

“We had to take the Senate version of the health care bill,” Ms. DeGette said. “This is not anything we spent time talking about here in the House.”

Another House Democrat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “This was a stupid provision that never should have gotten into the law.”

Don’t both houses have to approve a law before it goes to the Senate? How could the House blame the “Senate version.”

Optimized-Final-CoverA brief history lesson is in order–retold in glorious detail in Unprecedented. The Affordable Care Act passed an important test vote in the Senate on December 24, 2009, with a vote of 60-39. The version passed was not meant to be the final version of the bill, and contained the venial (in the words of Justice Scalia) Cornhusker Kickbacks and Louisiana Purchase. A few weeks later, Scott Brown was elected as the 41st vote to stop Obamacare in the Senate. So Obama, Pelosi, and Reid were forced with a dilemma. If the House voted on a bill, and sent it back to the Senate, it would die in a filibuster. Instead, the House decided to pass the Senate bill, with minor changes made through the Reconciliation process, without any substantive debate. Many of these so-called “wrinkles” would certainly have been ironed out in a normal reconciliation process, but the Democrats could not afford delay, and passed a version of the bill that was nowhere near ready for primetime.

So now we are stuck with this, and many, many other lurking “wrinkles.” Wait till they figure out the mandate isn’t high enough to work.

So what’s the solution? Not changing the law of course. As has been the President’s pattern, unilateral administration action to fix these “wrinkles.”

Representative Henry A. Waxman, a California Democrat who helped write the 2010 law, said, “The federal government, as our employer, should provide the same contributions it makes to our current health plans.”

The Office of Personnel Management could establish that policy administratively, without legislation, he said.

Totally unrelated, but I always found it somewhat odd that the same benefit plans were available to employees of all three branches of government. I found it odd that as a member of the Federal Courts, an Article II agency was administering my benefits. Same for the Article III judges. I realize this probably makes things much easier, and saves a lot of money, but it tingled my separation-of-powers nerves. Also, when I transferred from the DOD as a law clerk (Article I) to U.S. Courts as a law clerk (Article III), my status, and pay grade (higher than my co-clerks just starting out) transferred over. I never understood that either.