Sen. David Vitter wants answers on Obamacare. On Thursday, he’ll learn if the Republican members of the committee he chairs are behind him.
The senator from Louisiana has been leading a crusade to uncover why members of Congress and their staffers receive their health insurance on D.C.’s small business exchange—and the employer contribution that goes along with that designation—rather than the individual marketplace. So Vitter’s Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee will vote on whether to subpoena documents sent to the D.C. Health Benefit Exchange Authority (which oversees the District’s health marketplace).
The panel roster has 10 Republicans and nine Democrats, so Vitter will likely need every Republican on his side to approve the subpoena.
But on Tuesday, Sens. Deb Fischer and Kelly Ayotte didn’t say how they would vote; they said they weren’t confident there was going to be a vote on the subpoena and didn’t comment on whether they would support Vitter’s endeavor. And Sen. James Risch wouldn’t definitively say how he planned to vote, as he has work to do to catch up to speed before he takes a position.
A news release from the committee stated that a vote will occur Thursday and that “most Committee Republicans are committed to supporting Vitter’s request to subpoena the documents.” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, the panel’s top Democrat, opposes the subpoena, according to her press secretary, Vivek Kembaiyan.
How Congress receives its health care has been a thorny issue dating back to the Affordable Care Act’s negotiations. Democrats say Congress is a large employer, and thus should provide its employees with health coverage, as the law mandates large companies must do.
On the other side of the aisle, Republicans argue that Congress should live within the same health system it imposes on others and should receive insurance through the online exchanges. Vitter has taken up this cause—and taken it a step further: Congress isn’t a small business, he says, and staffers and members shouldn’t be on the small business exchange, which allows them to receive employer contributions toward their health insurance.
“Congress should absolutely not be exempt from living under Obamacare just like the millions of Americans who don’t get a special taxpayer funded subsidy. The only way Congress was able to exempt itself from Obamacare was by creating a loophole and designating itself as a ‘Small Business,’ ” Vitter said in a statement. “Thursday’s vote is an opportunity for members of Congress to publicly stand for government transparency and accountability, taking one step closer to living under Obamacare—the same as the rest of America, not an elite ruling class. Issuing this subpoena will allow us to find out who is responsible for allowing Congress to receive a special taxpayer-funded subsidy on Obamacare, so we can fix this—and ultimately, end the special exemption.”
The subpoena 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. More than 13,700 Congress members, staffers, and family members had signed up for Washington’s small business exchange as of Feb. 8.
In December, Vitter prompted Senate Republicans to pass a nonbinding party rule requiring all committee, office, and leadership staff to receive their health insurance through the D.C. marketplace. However, not all Republican committee chairs plan to follow along.