House GOP’s latest plan makes it more likely Congress, staff dominated by wealthy

[update: The House will not be voting on this.]

As deadline for avoiding a default on the nation’s debt approaches, the House GOP is jettisoning most of what they fought for over the last weeks, months, even years.

Under their version, the Affordable Care Act will survive intact.

Reports indicate that the only change to the ACA would be including the Vitter Amendment.

This provision makes it even more likely that people holding legislative positions in Congress and their staff members are far more wealthy than most Americans.

Why?

Because the provision would legislate that these individuals can’t get any help from their employer to cover health insurance premiums.

Compensation would drop by around $10,000 a year.

Under the guise of “making Congress live by the same rules” as other Americans, this bill treats staff and legislators much worse than any one else. The rationale is phony and cynical.

95% of large employers provide health coverage to employees. And no other group of people in the country is prohibited from receiving employer support on health care.

This worsens the class divide in Congress and among staff

Some staff are young folks, right out of college. Others are mature individuals, with high levels of expertise. Some work in Washington, D.C. Others work in state and district offices.

Congress needs needs good folks working for them, including people who aren’t independently wealthy and don’t have parents who can subsidize them. This provision makes it harder to have staff from varied class backgrounds.

Our Congress is dominated by millionaires. Maine’s Congressman Mike Michaud, with his working class background, is very unusual. This provision makes it even more likely that the wealthy will dominate law-making.

The GOP is losing on policy and has lost the support of the public. Now they’re undermining representation and hurting their own and others’ staffers.

Addition: See these selections from emails from a collection of emails of congressional staffers, as published in the New Yorker.

From A House Republican staffer:

It’s definitely a morale killer. We’ve been dealing with stagnant pay, long hours—including weekends and federal holidays—but hey, at least we have good benefits. This will suck. I know the public doesn’t have much sympathy, but these are not easy jobs. If they hate Congress, imagine working for it.

That said, I can understand the rationale and strategy in embracing the amendment and I don’t resent the Members who are pushing it. They know full well they’ll have to deal with the consequences.

I’ve been a staffer in a republican Senate office for 8 years. It’s extremely frustrating to have Vitter portray the employer contribution as some sort of exemption from the exchanges. My healthcare costs are already going to sky rocket, but being responsible for 100% of my premiums just isn’t realistic on my salary. I know I’m not the only staffer looking for a job off the hill because I knew this was a possibility. I can only assume the poor staff having to write the amendment language are hopefully throwing death glares at Vitter.

From a Senate intern:

I’m a senior in college, currently a paid intern in the Senate. The Vitter Amendment disgusts me. Already I fear younger people like me, pessimistic about the efficacy of government, will steer away from jobs in the public sector. And many of us even somewhat politically aware understand that staffers are overworked and underpaid. However, the allure is that you get to do something good, and in a sense, serve your country. But adding the burden of providing for my own health care is a bridge too far. In an already stalemated Congress, there are few incentives that outweigh that burden. The entrenched pessimism on the part of people my age scares me. We may not have faith in government but to change it we have little choice but to participate. That means voting, working in government or even holding office. But what are the incentives now? I know that people my age would be able to fix this. My concern is none of us would choose to be in any position to solve it in first place.

From a House Democratic staffer:

I will make $22,800 this year after taxes. That is it. I am a 30 year old married congressional staffer with a 20 month old son who depends on my job for his health insurance. My husband has to pay for his own health care through his salary, and it would cost him over $1000 a month to cover the whole family. I just started in this position 6 months ago, after being out of work for a year and staying at home with my baby. I need my health insurance, and I cannot afford to pay $600 a month for coverage. Without this so called “subsidy” (the same “subsidy” congressional staffers have been receiving for years before the ACA) both myself and my son will be uninsured. With our combined salaries, my husband and I will not qualify for subsidies via the ACA, so we would have to pay for it all out of pocket.

I am not “entitled.” I am not a leech. I work. I pay bills. And my husband and I are trying to raise our son as well as possible. I lead a simple, middle class lifestyle. I am not riding high on the hog in any capacity. And neither are any of my co-workers. So I don’t know why we are being targeted. The congressperson I work for is married to a doctor, so they are set. They can pay for their health insurance without a “subsidy.” I can’t afford to. If I cannot receive the same assistance from my employer as the majority of Americans who get healthcare through their employer, I will be priced out of health care.

From a former Republican staffer:

As a former GOP Chief, this sucks for staff. You’re now essentially saying we shutdown the government and threatened the full faith and credit of the United States just so that we can screw our underpaid, overworked, under-appreciated staff. It’s a big middle finger to folks who give up their entire lives for what is now a very crappy job.

Some offices may have the ability to help staffers mitigate the new expense by moving things around in the MRA, but most offices won’t have that flexibility as we’ve also been cutting congressional staff budgets consistently too.

I’d think the brain drain on the Hill will likely be quick and dramatic over the next year if this becomes law.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives.