In the very near future, congressional Republicans have some important decisions to make when it comes to health care policy. Will they threaten a government shutdown over funding for the Affordable Care Act? Will they use the issue as the basis for a debt-ceiling crisis?
And perhaps more directly, will they personally sign up for subsidized insurance through an exchange created by the health care law?
As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, the right is heavily invested in the idea that members of Congress are “exempt” from “Obamacare.” The claim is plainly untrue – thanks to a scheme Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) stumbled into, lawmakers will give up their current health care coverage and get coverage through a marketplace where insurers compete for their business.
There are, however, some complications – these exchanges were designed for the uninsured and small-business owners looking to cover their employees, not wealthy federal lawmakers who already have perfectly good coverage. It’s why the Obama administration had to work out a fix for members of Congress and their aides a few weeks ago.
But for Republicans this creates yet another problem: if they sign up for coverage, doesn’t that mean they’re necessarily participating in the health care system they claim to hate? As far-right groups urge the uninsured to stay that way on purpose by staying out of the exchange, won’t those same lobbying efforts apply to lawmakers themselves?
If conservatives genuinely believe that Obamacare is a threat to the country they will extend their campaigns to convince people to skip Obamacare from nameless powerless young people to elected officials and their aides. And if those members and aides have the courage of their convictions they’ll follow suit.
To the extent that none of this happens – that conservative groups keep quiet, and conservative members and aides enroll in the exchanges – it’ll expose the right’s anti-Obamacare activism as a shallow enterprise undertaken by people who are happy to see millions go without insurance, so long as it’s not themselves or their families.
So, what are far-right lawmakers going to do? I’m glad you asked.
As Igor Volsky reported, so far, two current members are prepared to bypass the system on purpose.
[North Carolina Republican Robert Pittenger has] voluntarily withdrawn from health coverage altogether. [North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows] added that his staff has also voluntarily declined the subsidies. And while most members of Congress may be able to afford to forfeit the government contribution – Meadows has a net worth between $1,674,034 to $12,017,998 [and] Pittenger is worth between $18,615,005 to $48,551,997.
Two GOP members out of 233 in the House obviously isn’t a large number, but don’t be surprised if this number grows as right-wing lobbying becomes more intense.
Also note, a lot of these folks have convenient outs – if they have spouses with employer-based coverage of their own, members and staffers can get insurance anyway. For that matter, if you’re a multi-millionaire lawmaker, you can afford to get coverage without a subsidy anyway.
But the underlying point remains the same: every member of Congress, in both parties, who gets coverage in the coming months through an insurance exchange will be participating in “Obamacare,” even conservatives who will be reluctant to say so out loud.