One of the great attributes of democracy is that those who make the laws live under them, which makes the latest development with the Affordable Care Act troubling.
It seems that some members of Congress and their aides aren’t happy with part of the law they wrote — and now President Barack Obama’s administration says they shouldn’t have to live under it. It’s a break the average American isn’t likely to get.
Here’s what happened: Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley included an eat-your-own-cooking provision in the new law that said members of Congress and their staffs must purchase health insurance through the online exchanges that the Affordable Care Act created. It was a bit of political theater by the Republican, but the then-Democratic majorities passed it.
The law will kick lawmakers and staffers off the generous federal employee health plan. But it made no mention about the government continuing to pay for 75 percent of these employees’ premiums, as under their current plans. That’s a subsidy worth about $5,000 to $10,000 a year, depending on whether it is individual or family coverage.
So members of Congress and some of their aides would wind up taking a pay cut in moving to the exchanges. Understandably, many staffers were unhappy. Some threatened to quit or retire. One lawmaker moaned about a “brain drain” of staffers.
This week, the government’s Office of Personnel Management proposed a rule to have taxpayers continue paying that subsidy for lawmakers and their staffers so they don’t get hit with premium increases when moving to Obamacare exchanges. That spared Congress from having to raise staffers’ pay or change the law, which many members who earn $174,000 annually feared would make it look like they were giving themselves special treatment.
While they won’t be eligible for tax credits to offset premium payments, the Washingtonians are getting a break many Americans won’t see.
Writing in Investors Business Daily, former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey calculated how the law will work in New York City. A family of three, earning $80,000, would pay $12,784 for the second-cheapest plan with a $3,000 deductible.
“The family wouldn’t be eligible for a tax credit. Washington says $12,784 is ‘affordable’ for them. But not for a member of Congress with more than double that income,” she wrote.
Already, many small-business owners have put off hiring and cut hours because they worry they can’t afford the new law’s requirements. A recent Gallup Poll found that 41 percent of small businesses surveyed had held off plans to hire new workers. Twenty-four percent have considered dropping health insurance for their employees, 19 percent have reduced the number of employees and 18 percent have reduced the hours of workers to part time.
Now that’s a brain drain.
Congress wrote the law, and Congress can fix it if they think it’s unfair. They shouldn’t get special consideration. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said so in a 1921 opinion: “At the foundation of our civil liberty lies the principle which denies to government officials an exceptional position before the law and which subjects them to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen.”
In other words, live under the laws you make.