Republicans Block Vitter’s Obamacare Subpoena

Five GOP senators oppose Vitter’s effort, and he accuses them of wanting to “protect congressional perks.”

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) speaks during a news conference July 26, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
National Journal
Rachel Roubein
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Rachel Roubein
April 23, 2015, 7:13 a.m.

Sen. Dav­id Vit­ter was sty­mied Thursday in his latest ef­fort to get an­swers on how mem­bers of Con­gress and staff get their health in­sur­ance through Obama­care. And it wasn’t just Demo­crats who blocked him—it was his fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans

Vit­ter has fiercely op­posed Con­gress mem­bers and staffers re­ceiv­ing their health in­sur­ance through Wash­ing­ton’s small-busi­ness ex­change, which grants them an em­ploy­er con­tri­bu­tion to their health care. Vit­ter wants the Small Busi­ness and En­tre­pren­eur­ship Com­mit­tee, which he chairs, to sub­poena doc­u­ments from the D.C. Health Be­ne­fit Ex­change Au­thor­ity, which over­sees the Dis­trict’s health mar­ket­place.

But for five com­mit­tee Re­pub­lic­ans, Vit­ter’s plan to sub­poena simply goes too far.

Thursday’s vote failed 5-to-14, with Re­pub­lic­an Sens. James Risch, Rand Paul, Deb Fisc­her, Kelly Ayotte, and Mike En­zi op­pos­ing the meas­ure. Their op­pos­i­tion clearly frus­trated the chair­man; a press re­lease from Vit­ter, after the tally, was head­lined: “Com­mit­tee Vote to Im­pede In­vest­ig­a­tion Dis­ap­point­ing, Typ­ic­al of In­sider Men­tal­ity to Pro­tect Con­gres­sion­al Perks.”

Vit­ter needed all 10 of the Re­pub­lic­ans on the pan­el to side with him in or­der to is­sue the sub­poena, which spe­cific­ally asks for nine un­re­dac­ted pages of ap­plic­a­tions that the Sen­ate and the House sub­mit­ted to the D.C. Health Be­ne­fit Ex­change Au­thor­ity to al­low mem­bers and staff to re­ceive health in­sur­ance through the small-busi­ness mar­ket­place.

“This isn’t the jur­is­dic­tion of this com­mit­tee,” Risch said. He’s wor­ried the sub­poena could de­tract from the main job of the com­mit­tee—to help small busi­nesses—and that it could turn in­to a pro­trac­ted leg­al fight.

En­zi cited fear of what would hap­pen to his em­ploy­ees’ health in­sur­ance if cov­er­age were to shift. “I think there needs to be a solu­tion,” he said, adding that the way he sees it, his of­fice is a small busi­ness.

“Each of us has our own budget,” he said. “Each of us has our own staff.”

But Vit­ter countered his fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans, say­ing the com­mit­tee’s goal is to be an ad­voc­ate for small busi­nesses—and he’s sure a sub­poena would work.

“Based on our com­mu­nic­a­tions, I’m com­pletely con­fid­ent that if we is­sue the sub­poena, we will get from them the nine pages un­re­dac­ted, which is the goal,” said Vit­ter, who has launched an in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to why Con­gress was des­ig­nated as a small busi­ness.

Ac­cord­ing to a seni­or GOP com­mit­tee aide, each Re­pub­lic­an, with the ex­cep­tion of Paul, ini­tially sup­por­ted the sub­poena ef­fort, but the aide wrote in an email that four of them flipped.

Yet, Re­pub­lic­ans have voted with Vit­ter in the past—and then de­cided they might not play by the rules. In Decem­ber, Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans un­an­im­ously passed a non­bind­ing party rule by voice vote that re­quired all of­fice, lead­er­ship, and com­mit­tee staff to re­ceive their health in­sur­ance on Wash­ing­ton’s small-busi­ness ex­change rather than through the fed­er­al pro­gram. Most com­mit­tee chairs were already do­ing so, but a few have not com­mit­ted to mak­ing the switch.

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