Remember when Nancy Pelosi said Congress needed to pass healthcare so we could see what’s in it? Remember when she and her cohorts said we’d love it once we understood it better? She may yet change her tune. Robert Pear of the New York Times states…
…the new health care law will affect almost every American in some way. And, perhaps fittingly if unintentionally, no one may be more affected than members of Congress themselves.
The Congressional Research Service says “the law may have significant unintended consequences for the “personal health insurance coverage” of senators, representatives and their staff members.”
This is too good – “the law may “remove members of Congress and Congressional staff” from their current coverage, in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, before any alternatives are available.”
The law apparently bars members of Congress from the federal employees health program, on the assumption that lawmakers should join many of their constituents in getting coverage through new state-based markets known as insurance exchanges.
But the research service found that this provision was written in an imprecise, confusing way, so it is not clear when it takes effect.
The new exchanges do not have to be in operation until 2014. But because of a possible “drafting error,” the report says, Congress did not specify an effective date for the section excluding lawmakers from the existing program.
Um, yeah. The exchanges don’t exist yet, but Congress is supposed to take part in them now? Well, Nancy and Harry – that’s what happens when you pass something you don’t read first!
Under well-established canons of statutory interpretation, the report said, “a law takes effect on the date of its enactment” unless Congress clearly specifies otherwise. And Congress did not specify any other effective date for this part of the health care law. The law was enacted when President Obama signed it three weeks ago.
Okay, Nancy. No more health care for you!!
But this is the quote of the day – if I could write these words in huge letters across the sky, I would:
The confusion raises the inevitable question: If they did not know exactly what they were doing to themselves, did lawmakers who wrote and passed the bill fully grasp the details of how it would influence the lives of other Americans?
Ding ding ding ding ding ding!! Congratulations, Ms. Nancy and Mr. Harry. You two get the booby prize.
“It is unclear whether members of Congress and Congressional staff who are currently participating in F.E.H.B.P. may be able to retain this coverage,” the research service said in an 8,100-word memorandum.
And even if current members of Congress can stay in the popular program for federal employees, that option will probably not be available to newly elected lawmakers, the report says.
These seemingly technical questions will affect 535 members of Congress and thousands of Congressional employees. But the issue also has immense symbolic and political importance. Lawmakers of both parties have repeatedly said their goal is to provide all Americans with access to health insurance as good as what Congress has.
I wonder how fast they’ll move to fix that particular snag in the legislative mess they just rammed through Congress – for ego purposes only.
Moreover, it says, the strictures of the new law will apply to staff members who work in the personal office of a member of Congress. But they may or may not apply to people who work on the staff of Congressional committees and in “leadership offices” like those of the House speaker and the Democratic and Republican leaders and whips in the two chambers.
In addition, the report says, Congress did not designate anyone to resolve these “ambiguities” or to help arrange health insurance for members of Congress in the future.
“This omission, whether intentional or inadvertent, raises questions regarding interpretation and implementation that cannot be definitively resolved by the Congressional Research Service,” the report says. “The statute does not appear to be self-executing, but rather seems to require an administrating or implementing authority that is not specifically provided for by the statutory text.”
The White House said last month that Mr. Obama would voluntarily participate in the health insurance exchange, though the law does not require him or other administration officials to do so. His participation as president may depend on his getting re-elected in 2012.
Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, said lawmakers were in the same boat as many Americans, trying to figure out what the new law meant for them.
“If members of Congress cannot explain how it’s going to work for them and their staff, how will they explain it to the rest of America?” Mr. Chaffetz asked in an interview.
The provision governing members of Congress can be traced to the Senate Finance Committee. When the panel was working on the legislation last September, Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, proposed an amendment to require that elected federal officials and all federal employees buy coverage through an exchange, “rather than using the traditional Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.”
A scaled-back version of the amendment, applying to members of Congress and their aides, was accepted in the committee without objection.
Thank you, Senator Grassley – they didn’t even notice what you were doing – they were too busy beating the drum and beating all opposition to a pulp. Do you think the Senator did this deliberately – just to point out how poorly this legislation was being crafted?
And I thought the elites in Congress knew what was best for the rest of us.
The words just desserts come to mind. We’ll keep you posted on new developments.