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.
What We're Following See More »
"The Trump administration is putting pressure on Senate Republicans to crack down on Democratic efforts to delay its agenda, fueling talk about the need for rules reform among Republicans on Capitol Hill. Republicans are in discussions with Democrats about bipartisan changes to Senate rules to speed up consideration of President Trump’s judicial and executive branch nominees, but if that effort flounders — as similar ones have in the past — they’re not ruling out unilateral action."
During his campaign, Donald Trump indicated to Washington Post reporters that he'd like to have White House employees sign nondisclosure agreements. That is, in fact, what he's done, according to a scoop by the Post's Ruth Marcus. "Some balked at first but, pressed by then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and the White House Counsel’s Office, ultimately complied, concluding that the agreements would likely not be enforceable in any event." The administration intended the agreements to remain in force beyond Trump's tenure. An early draft included penalties of up to $10 million.
"Trump is asking for a bill" that would effectively break the WTO. One of the core WTO principles — which has underpinned globalization and trade for 70 years — is an idea called 'most favored nation status.' Countries that belong to the WTO have all agreed to charge the same tariff rate for imports from all other WTO members." But Trump covets reciprocal tariffs "nation-by-nation, product-by-product." The GOP free-traders in Congress are unlikely to support such an effort.