A new petition from Liz Cheney’s campaign calls on Sen. Mike Enzi, her opponent, to renounce an Obama administration move that could give members of Congress and their staff special treatment under the Affordable Care Act’s health exchange programs.
On Tuesday, Enzi’s camp responded that he doesn’t support special treatment for lawmakers and that few members of Congress have been working harder to defeat all of Obamacare’s provisions than Wyoming’s senior senator, who faces Cheney in a Republican primary challenge for his job.
The issue centers on the Obama administration proposal that would exempt members of Congress from getting their insurance through exchanges created under the package of healthcare reforms often called Obamacare and now part of federal law.
Since the news broke about the rule, senators and representatives around the country have been assuring constituents that lawmakers and their staffers haven’t exempted themselves from accessing federal health insurance exchanges in 2014.
The proposed exemption came from the White House’s Office of Personnel Management a week ago. The office still hasn’t clarified whether members of Congress and their staff would have to switch from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program to insurance offered through an Obamacare-created insurance exchange.
The only certainty is that the Office of Personnel Management wants to pay up to 75 percent of premiums for members of Congress and their staffers, which isn’t an increase of what is currently offered, according to that office.
The office is the arm of the government that currently pays for congressional health insurance, and critics of the move say the office’s ongoing support will exempt lawmakers from using an insurance exchange as provided to all Americans under federal law.
Under federal law, lawmakers and their staffers are required to get insurance through federal health insurance exchanges in 2014 because of an amendment that requires them to do so (Enzi voted for the amendment in 2009). Currently, the employees of the executive branch have an exemption.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, called the administration’s decision illegal.
Washington lawmakers have received a backlash from their constituents for the proposed rule change, and Cheney is leading the charge in Wyoming.
On a website sponsored by her campaign, it asks citizens to sign an online petition to urge “Senator Mike Enzi and other elected officials” to renounce the “special deal” that members of Congress and staff could receive. Even though the Obama administration is proposing the change, Cheney called the move a “behind-the-scenes” deal in Congress.
“The hypocrisy is stunning but all too typical of how Congress works,” Cheney said in a media release. “Members cut special deals for themselves so they don’t feel the pain their laws inflict on the general public.”
Members of Congress didn’t exempt themselves from anything, said Coy Knobel, communications director for Enzi.
“Liz Cheney is late to the game,” Knobel said. “Senator Enzi voted for an amendment to include Congress in Obamacare in 2009. Where was she then? Because of the efforts of Senator Enzi and the others, who are in the minority, President Obama is going around Congress and selectively suspending parts of the law he finds politically indefensible. Senator Enzi and others like him who were fighting against Obamacare are the reason the Administration had to issue this ruling. This was a decision by the Administration, not Congress.”
One House lawmaker has already worked on legislation to ensure that no member of Congress will be able to skirt the provisions outlined in the health care law.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., plans to introduce legislation in the House called the No ObamaCare Subsidies for Congress Act of 2013 while others have made calls to fight the administration on the proposed rule change.
Enzi has been opposed to the Affordable Care Act since it first emerged in 2009. He’s co-sponsored legislation to fully repeal and defund the law and supported five bills to repeal taxes in the law, three bills to repeal the individual mandate, three bills to repeal the employer mandate and six others to hinder provisions of the bill.
“If you are keeping score so far the administration has given a break to businesses, Congress and insurance companies, but not to individual Americans,” Enzi said in a media release on Tuesday. “This continued disregard of the law by the administration are for purely political purposes and seek to hide the worst parts of this law until after the 2014 elections. I’ve said from the start that this law was unfair, too complex and unworkable. It’s even more critical that we stop it now in the light of the Administration’s attempts to circumvent and delay all of the unworkable and politically damaging provisions.”