The bill bars lawmakers and appointed officials from receiving assistance that Americans are entitled to under Obamacare. Most lawmakers and officials would be ineligible for subsidies anyway, which max out at 400 percent of the poverty line, but some of them, who are less highly paid and have big families, would be affected.
Notably, the Enzi-Vitter legislation would not strip subsidies for congressional staff, who are also required to purchase insurance under Obamacare's exchanges, according to a summary of the bill. Members of Congress fear a "brain drain" if staffers are denied assistance to buy health insurance.
The White House has welcomed legislation to move White House and cabinet officials into the Obamacare exchanges, although it has not said it would support stripping subsidies. "The President has already said that he would go into the Marketplaces," a White House official told TPM in an email earlier this month, when the OPM ruling was revealed. "White House officials also said they would support legislation that would put Cabinet officials and White House staff on the Marketplaces."
Democratic leaders largely support the OPM ruling and would be hard-pressed to cut off subsidies in certain cases. But the politics are tricky because the bill is being characterized as an effort to level the playing field against politicians seeking special treatment, even though it would actually put lower-income lawmakers and bureaucrats with big families at a disadvantage.
"The bottom line is if Senators and their staff don't like the ruling they and their staff are free to opt out. This is just more naysaying from Republicans who can't accept the law," said a Senate Democratic leadership aide, challenging Enzi and Vitter to "put [their] money where their mouth is" and opt themselves and their staff out if they truly oppose the OPM ruling.
Republicans have caught an earful this August from conservative constituents pushing the quixotic strategy of forcing a government shutdown unless Obamacare is defunded. Most Republicans know the strategy is doomed to fail. But the Enzi-Vitter legislation provides them an easy line of attack against Obamacare.
"These recent maneuverings inside the beltway are precisely why the American people rightly despise Congress," Vitter said. "Some of our colleagues may try some slick maneuver to avoid political backlash by allowing Members to hide their exemption from the public, but our amendment is clear."
In a letter to OPM's acting director dated Wednesday, Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) criticizes uncertainties in its rule about which staffers are covered, and concludes that "if every American must be subject to ObamaCare, then all Members of Congress and their staff, you, and all political appointees must be included in this onerous mandate as well."
In the House, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) announced similar legislation in a press release earlier this month to end Obamacare subsidies for members of Congress -- but not the executive branch.
"At the same time the president is unfairly choosing to give businesses a free pass for a year and leave everyday Americans out in the cold, families across the country are bracing for skyrocketing premiums," she said. "As long as ObamaCare remains law, Members of Congress should not receive exchange subsidies that are not provided to other Americans."