WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley was rebuffed today when he asked senators to agree to including the staff of Senate leadership and committees, as well as the President and White House staff, in a 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 pending health care legislation.
Grassley asked for unanimous consent to make the change. A Democratic senator objected on behalf of the Senate Majority Leader. Grassley also filed an amendment to make this change, but the amendment was never brought up by the Majority Leader during the lengthy Senate debate.
In September, a Grassley amendment adopted by the Senate Finance Committee established the requirement for all congressional staff, along with members of Congress. However, the Reid amendment brought to the floor modified the Grassley language in a way that exempts the staff of congressional leaders and committees.
The Finance Committee bill on page 81, based on the Grassley amendment, applied the requirement to “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, applies the requirement to “employees employed by the official office of a Member of Congress, whether in Washington, D.C., or outside of Washington D.C.”
“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 that’s inexcusable.”
Grassley said it also only makes sense that the requirement be applied to 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.
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.