Is congress trying to exempt itself from Obamacare?

So it started with this story in Politico:

Congressional leaders in both parties are engaged in high-level, confidential talks about exempting lawmakers and Capitol Hill aides from the insurance exchanges they are mandated to join as part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, sources in both parties said.

The talks — which involve Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Obama administration and other top lawmakers — are extraordinarily sensitive, with both sides acutely aware of the potential for political fallout from giving carve-outs from the hugely controversial law to 535 lawmakers and thousands of their aides. Discussions have stretched out for months, sources said

A source close to the talks says: “Everyone has to hold hands on this and jump, or nothing is going to get done.”

Yet if Capitol Hill leaders move forward with the plan, they risk being dubbed hypocrites by their political rivals and the American public. By removing themselves from a key Obamacare component, lawmakers and aides would be held to a different standard than the people who put them in office.

Via Meadia quickly jumped on the story, which dovetailed nicely with a post they had yesterday about Obamacare’s questionable popularity.

Ezra Klein came to congress’s defense:

There’s a Politico story making the rounds that says that members of Congress are engaged in secret, sensitive negotiations to exempt themselves and their staffs from Obamacare.

Well, they were secret, anyway.

The story has blown up on Twitter. “Unbelievable,” tweets TPM’s Brian Beutler. “Flat out incredible,” says Politico’s Ben White. “Obamacare for thee, but not for me,” snarks Ben Domenech. “Two thumbs way, way down,” says Richard Roeper. (Okay, I made the last one up).If this sounds unbelievable, it’s because it is. There’s no effort to “exempt” Congress from Obamacare. No matter how this shakes out, Congress will have to follow the law, just like everyone else does.

Based on conversations I’ve had with a number of the staffs involved in these talks, the actual issue here is far less interesting, and far less explosive, than an exemption. Rather, a Republican amendment meant to embarrass Democrats and a too-clever-by-half Democratic response has possibly created a problem in which the federal government can’t make its normal contribution to the insurance premiums of congressional staffers.

Friend of Mere O Joe Carter comments at Acton:

In 2010, FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, attempted to debunk a rumor that the pending Obamacare legislation exempted members of Congress and their staffs from its provisions. They snarkily replied, “No. This twisted claim is based on misrepresentations of the House and Senate bills, neither of which exempts lawmakers.”

Members of Congress are subject to the legislation’s mandate to have insurance, and the plans available to them must meet the same minimum benefit standards that other insurance plans will have to meet. “All plans would have to follow those requirements by 2019,” Aaron Albright, press secretary for the House Committee on Education and Labor, told FactCheck.org. “People actually believe we wrote in the bill that Congress exempts itself from these requirements. That falsehood has been going around since the very beginning.”

You can almost hear the exasperation in Mr. Albright’s voice. How could anyone think that the same members of Congress who believed the legislation was good for America would exempt themselves from its provision? Do we think lawmakers and their staff are a bunch of hypocrites?

Well, yes. Yes we do.

Is anyone (other than Mr. Albright and the folks at FactCheck.org) really surprised that Congress is now trying to find a way to exempt themselves from the law they foisted on the rest of America?

Congressional leaders in both parties are engaged in high-level, confidential talks about exempting lawmakers and Capitol Hill aides from the insurance exchanges they are mandated to join as part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, sources in both parties said.

The talks — which involve Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Obama administration and other top lawmakers — are extraordinarily sensitive, with both sides acutely aware of the potential for political fallout from giving carve-outs from the hugely controversial law to 535 lawmakers and thousands of their aides. Discussions have stretched out for months, sources said.

A source close to the talks says: “Everyone has to hold hands on this and jump, or nothing is going to get done.”
Yet if Capitol Hill leaders move forward with the plan, they risk being dubbed hypocrites by their political rivals and the American public. By removing themselves from a key Obamacare component, lawmakers and aides would be held to a different standard than the people who put them in office.

Congress frequently exempts itself from laws that apply to the rest of America, which is despicable, but not all that shocking. But what makes this situation particularly galling is that Congress was in no rush to provide a religious liberty exemption so that thousands of employers do not have to violate their conscience. They stood by silently as companies like Hobby Lobby were threatened with fines of up to $1.3 million per day. Yet now, as Politico reports, they are “concerned about the hit to their own wallets.”