Vitter move to ax health benefits for Congress, staff causes friction

Sept. 18, 2013 at 11:14 AM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 18 (UPI) -- Senators will vote on a plan by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., that would end federal contributions to healthcare coverage for lawmakers and staffs, an aide said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., indicated Tuesday that Vitter's plan would get a vote, Roll Call said.

A Democratic aide said any vote on Vitter's proposal likely would be accompanied by a side-by-side alternative.

As an amendment to a bipartisan energy efficiency bill, Vitter effectively proposed treating members of Congress, staffers and other appointees as if they were employees who lose their employer-based health benefits and be funneled into the healthcare exchanges created by the 2010 Affordable Care Act, Roll Call said.

By eliminating the employer contribution for covered employees, federal workers would be in the same category as those without benefits, Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

"It is unfair to do this to the employees of the Senate as well as the members. All that we are asking is that this group of individuals be treated the same as every other American with health insurance through their employment. My fear is that this isn't the end of Sen. Vitter's crusade against health insurance by employers," Durbin said.

Reid said Vitter should leave congressional staff out of his fight against President Obama's signature healthcare reform law, saying if Vitter and other GOP senators believe they should bear the full cost of their health coverage "they can, without any change in the law, decline the federal government's employer contribution and pay their own way."

"But for Sen. Vitter and his Republican allies to end the contribution for 16,000 hardworking federal employees, even after years of accepting the subsidy themselves, is hypocritical and mean-spirited," Reid said.

While some Republican senators said they backed Vitter's plan, others declined to take a position when asked by Roll Call.

"Let's see what form it finally takes. There are various discussions about what form it could finally take. I don't see any reason to treat congressional staff members differently than we do all federal employees, for example," Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said. "I'll wait to see when and if it comes up."

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