By Christine Harbin Hanson
Washington has a serious conflict of interests. The people who write and pass the laws also often directly benefit from them. Members of Congress have a strong incentive to put their own interests before their constituents’ interests, which often discourages them from doing the right thing when the votes come up. Senator Ron Johnson is the exception that proves this rule—the senior senator from Wisconsin is alone on Capitol Hill in his consistent opposition to the special treatment for Congress under the President’s healthcare law.
Members of Congress and their staff are supposed to live under the requirements of the health care law, according to section 1312(d)(3)(D). However, under President Obama’s direction, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) proposed a rule in August that allows the federal government to continue to pay for part of insurance premiums when members of Congress and their staff enroll in the new health insurance exchanges. This rule gives special treatment to members of Congress and their staff that everyday Americans simply don’t get.
Senator Johnson has consistently opposed this special treatment. This past September, he and the members of his staff sent a public comment to OPM that highlighted their reasons of disapproval, which AFP supported. In his latest effort, today Senator Johnson plans to file a lawsuit that challenges the OPM rule.
Americans for Prosperity applauds Senator Johnson’s efforts to end this special treatment, as past efforts have met widespread opposition in Congress. When his Senate colleague David Vitter proposed a legislative fix this past October, staffers from both sides of the aisle condemned it and advised their bosses to oppose it. Majority Leader Reid never brought Vitter’s amendment to the floor for a vote.
Off of Capitol Hill, it’s a much different story. We see overwhelming support at the grassroots level for ending this special treatment for Congress. When lawmakers went back to their districts during the December recess, they heard from people who are facing dropped coverage and fewer work hours as a result of the President’s misguided health care law. People are upset that members of Congress and their staff get special treatment, and they see the long list of politically-connected groups that secured a waiver from the White House. They want out too.
To help carry this message to Washington, Americans for Prosperity has been running an “Exempt Me Too” project. At JustExempt.me, people can sign an online petition that tells Congress that they want a waiver from the health care law, too. Over 200,000 people have signed AFP’s “Exempt Me Too” petition in the last few months, reflecting widespread dissatisfaction about special treatment for the well-connected. The grassroots are upset, and Congress would be wise to listen.