Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol praised Republican efforts to force congressional staffers to foot the entire cost of their health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA or “Obamacare”), pretending any subsides Congressional staffers receive from their employer would be tantamount to “special treatment.”
With the deadline to avoid a federal government shutdown looming, Republican Senator David Vitter (LA) proposed an amendment to the spending bill that would fund the government and avoid a shutdown. His proposal, passed by the House on a 228 - 201 vote, eliminates health care subsidies members of Congress and their staff will receive from their employer, the federal government, to help pay the cost of their coverage under the Obamacare exchanges.
Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol praised the plan as an “extremely strong, political, and substantive” provision during an appearance on the September 30 edition of Fox News' Special Report. Discussing the possibility of a government shutdown, Kristol claimed:
KRISTOL: This is the best political ground for them to fight on ... They are getting rid of the exemption -- the special treatment for congressmen who get special treatment -- better than that of anyone else who's forced into the exchanges.
When host Bret Baier pointed out that even some Republican congressmen disagreed with the measure because they “don't think that their staff should have to feel the pain here,” Kristol doubled down:
KRISTOL: I think the House Republicans are intelligent to insist on it, to prevent the Obama administration's change of it and to say, 'I'm sorry, there's no reason Congress or their staffs, nice people though they are, should get a better break than all the other Americans who are being forced into the exchanges under Obamacare.'
The “better break” Kristol cites is actually a special punishment targeted at congressional staff members, a punishment Vitter and House Republicans are fighting to continue.
Members of Congress and their staffs receive health insurance through the federal government, who, like most employers, covers a large percentage of the cost of its employees' coverage. In contrast, the insurance exchanges under the ACA are designed to provide coverage for people who do not receive employer-sponsored insurance.
In what was reportedly meant to be a "poison-pill" measure to the ACA, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley (IA) spearheaded an effort to require members of Congress and their staffs to obtain their health insurance on the ACA exchanges, not through their employer.
As a result, unlike employees of any other business or organization, congressional staff would be required to join the exchanges and pay the entire cost of their health coverage, because, as Mother Jones explained:
[T]he language in the law was unclear as to whether lawmakers and their aides would be able to keep using government money to purchase [health] insurance. To clear this up, the Obama administration issued a proposed rule in August stating that the government would continue to cover 75 percent of congressional health benefits. The GOP latched onto this new regulation as an “outrageous exemption for Congress” and a “big fat taxpayer funded subsidy.” Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), introduced bills that would strip out those employer contributions.
In chorus with elected officials, Fox News and other conservative media have decried news that the government will help mitigate the sting of this punishing loophole for low-paid congressional staff. Vitter's proposal and the House bill which forces them to bear the full burden of their health coverage came in reaction to news of these subsidies.
Even some Republicans are acknowledging the Republican proposal is draconian. As Mother Jones reported, "[O]ne rank-and-file Republican staffer says of the Vitter and McCaul measures[,] 'But Congress literally threw staff under the bus on this ...You're hurting staff assistants who are sorting your mail.' "