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Sun., Oct. 6, 2013

Smart Bombs: Shut down this gambit

Rested, recharged and ready to hit the rumpus room. So grab some coffee – but not the barista – and let’s get started:

“We voted on Monday night to have the House and Senate negotiate – and to delay the individual mandate and repeal the Obamacare subsidy for members of Congress – because if the American people have to bear the burden of Obamacare, so too should their representatives in Congress.” – U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers

Both chambers passed budgets in March, but then Senate Republicans repeatedly blocked efforts to hold negotiations to settle the differences, because they wanted to attach preconditions. If they weren’t guaranteed some outcomes, they didn’t want the talks. In a call to The Spokesman-Review on Friday, McMorris Rodgers acknowledged that negotiations should have taken place in the spring. Yes, and that would’ve been the opportune time to complain about a failure to communicate.

In addition, members of Congress can “bear the burden of Obamacare” if they so choose. When I asked her whether she would drop her health care benefit and go into the exchange to achieve her stated goal of fairness, she said she wasn’t sure that was allowed. But even if it were, she said she would be purchasing outside the exchange if the law stands. So much for experiencing Obamacare. This isn’t an option for millions of Americans who don’t have a spouse with coverage or the means to purchase in the individual market as it has existed.

In any event, this is just part of a cynical set-up to make it look like Congress is trying to avoid its own law. But that’s a myth.

Members of Congress and their staffs get their health coverage like all federal employees – and most Americans – as a job benefit. They are in the group insurance market. Those purchasing through the exchanges are in the individual market. This gambit to get members of Congress – but no other federal employees – to switch to the individual market has introduced confusion.

Health care benefits are a part of a worker’s total compensation. The uncertainty now is whether members of Congress will, in effect, take a cut in compensation by buying in the exchanges, or will their employer – the federal government – be allowed to contribute to that purchase. If the answer to the latter is no, then their compensation has been slashed by a significant amount, but they still haven’t been exempted from Obamacare.

In a rational world, congressional members would be treated the same as all federal employees. It would end the confusion, but torpedo a disingenuous talking point. And we know which one of those D.C. favors.

“Instead of coming to the table to negotiate with us, Democrats have met our repeated requests to negotiate with inaction and opposition.” – Rep. McMorris Rodgers

Negotiate over what? Mainly, the Affordable Care Act, which passed more than three years ago. Yes, after 41 attempts to repeal the law, Republican leadership wants to chat about a compromise. This is like a football team taking four failed cracks at the end zone and then asking the opponent if it can line up for a field goal attempt.

“The American people don’t want the government shut down, and they don’t want Obamacare.” – House Speaker John Boehner

Clever phrasing. The latest Quinnipiac Poll reveals why with these two questions:

“Do you support or oppose the health care law passed by Barack Obama and Congress in 2010?”

The nays beat the yeas, 47 percent to 45 percent. Some of the opposition comes from progressives who wanted a single-payer plan that would steam tea partyers even more. So Boehner’s actions have popular support, right? Let’s look at the next question:

“Do you support or oppose Congress cutting off funding of the health care law as a way to stop it from being put into place?”

Only 34 percent of Americans support this, and a mere 22 percent want a government shutdown as leverage. So pretending to listen to the public may not be the best strategy. After all, more than 90 percent of Americans were denied expanded background checks for gun purchases, because the gun lobby had outfitted congressional leadership with noise-canceling headphones.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026.

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