December 01,2009

Grassley exposes carve-out in Reid health care bill

Iowa senator prepares amendment to reverse carve-out, also include White House in new health care exchanges

WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley said it is unacceptable that staff of Senate leadership and committees is now exempted from the requirement that members of Congress and congressional staff get their employer-based health insurance through the same exchanges that would be created for the rest of the country under the Senate Majority Leader’s health care legislation.

A Grassley amendment adopted by the Finance Committee in September established this requirement for all congressional staff, along with members of Congress.

“Careful examination by the Congressional Research Service of the bill that Senator Reid brought to the floor revealed that one of the things that happened behind closed doors was that leadership and committee staff ended up being carved out from having to live under the new health care exchanges that this legislation would create and impose on the rest of the country,” Grassley said. “This creates a double standard. It’s inexcusable.”

Grassley said he’ll offer an amendment to restore his amendment, which the Finance Committee accepted without objection, and which the Congressional Research Service said made clear that leadership and committee staff would be required to access the new exchange.

Grassley said his floor amendment also will expand the requirement to include the President, the Vice President and all political appointees in the executive branch. “The President, the White House staff and cabinet secretaries are working very hard for this massive overhaul of America’s health care system. It’s only fair and logical that if this bill becomes law, these leaders should themselves be subject to the reforms,” he said.

Here’s how the language changed between the Finance Committee and the floor:
•    “Official office” in the Reid bill refers to members’ personal offices, not any office associated with a committee or leadership position.
•    THE FINANCE COMMITTEE BILL (based on Grassley Amendment): On page 81, "an employee whose pay is disbursed by the Secretary of the Senate or the Clerk of the House of Representatives."
•    THE REID BILL: On page 157, "employees employed by the official office of a Member of Congress, whether in Washington, D.C., or outside of Washington D.C."

Currently, members of Congress, congressional staff, the President, Vice President, cabinet secretaries, and political appointees participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. The exchange that would be established by the legislation pending in the Senate is modeled after this federal employees’ program and is supposed to give participants the same kind of choices and options for health care coverage as federal employees.

Grassley’s interest in having policy makers participate in the exchange is consistent with his long-held view that Congress should live under the same laws it passes for the rest of the country. In 1995, President Clinton signed into law the Congressional Accountability Act, which Grassley authored and fought to advance for six years before it was enacted. Grassley’s Congressional Accountability Act gives employees of the legislative branch protections under 12 civil rights, labor and workplace safety laws by making those laws apply to Congress.

Before enactment of the Congressional Accountability Act, Congress had exempted itself from these laws:

  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988
  • The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993
  • The Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970
  • The Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • Veterans’ employment and reemployment rights at Chapter 43 of Title 38 of the U.S. Code
  • The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1989.

The Congressional Accountability Act was amended in 1998 to include certain provisions of the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act of 1998.