Narrower Vitter Amendment Is Still B.S.

A blog about business and economics.
Oct. 15 2013 11:18 AM

Narrower Vitter Amendment Is Still B.S.

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A sign blocks a hallway at the Capitol Building on Oct. 14, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

I've written previously about the "Vitter Amendment," a nonsensical across-the-board paycut for congressional staff that is masquerading as an anti-Obamacare measure. It seems that House Republicans are now lining up around a new, reformulated, and narrower version of the amendment. In its new form the policy is much less pernicious simply because it applies to fewer people but it's still total B.S.

The way New Vitter would work is that House members, senators, the president, the vice president, and Cabinet officers would all lose their employer-provided health insurance. Then they would be told to go buy health insurance on the Affordable Care Act exchanges. And the government would not be allowed to use the money it saves by no longer providing the insurance to raise salaries or to subsidize exchange purchases.

In other words, all the top-ranked officials take a pay cut for no reason.

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This all goes back to Chuck Grassley's effort to embarrass Democrats back during the Affordable Care Act debate by sponsoring an amendment to force members of congress and their staff to use the ACA exchanges. Except instead of being embarrassed, Democrats accepted the amendment. The Office of Personnel Management has interpreted this Grassley proposal as simply modifying the form that the existing benefits package takes. Instead of the government giving congressional staff free health insurance, the government will give congressional staff money to shop on the exchange. The original Vitter Amendment would have prohibited the OPM from giving staffers that money—thus forcing an across-the-board cut in congressional staff pay. The new Vitter Amendment makes the proposal less pernicious by narrowing its reach. But it's still a bizarre idea, government by trolling.

As an aside, including the president in the New Vitter Amendment is particularly nonsensical since the president has a staff physician provided by the White House Military Office and doesn't really need a health insurance plan per se at all.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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