Congress gets an Obamacare waiver

Ready your pitchforks.

Reports indicate President Obama will soon confirm what many of us have long suspected, that Congress wants and will soon have a waiver from Obamacare.

You read that right.

We already knew that Congress intentionally crafted the health care law to permit the president to grant waivers to politically connected unions and corporations. And he has duly done so, more than 1,200 times. Now we learn that Congress also managed to wrangle a waiver for itself.

The monumental hypocrisy of this is breathtaking. It’s yet another example of how, more and more, the divide in American politics is not between left and right or between Republican and Democrat — it’s between us and them.

Unacknowledged for four years, and through two election cycles, this waiver news was first exposed last night in reports by Politico and CQ Roll Call.

Politico says the special treatment will be formally acknowledged next week by President Obama’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which is the federal government’s H.R. department, charged with administering federal benefits within the government.

According to CQ Roll Call, OPM will announce that it has decided that “the federal government will help pay the cost of premiums” on the new government-run “exchanges” for members of Congress and their staffs, who in turn will “not be eligible for the law’s tax credits and subsidies to buy insurance.”

This decision is a potential blockbuster for three reasons.

1) Its legality is extremely doubtful. In fact, it runs 180 degrees counter to what the statute seems to say, and to what its authors claim to have intended. People in exchanges are supposed to get federal exchange subsidies, not federal workplace subsidies. OPM is saying the opposite. By what legal authority?

2) If applied beyond Congress to the private sector, the decision would undermine the entire employer-provided health insurance system, a system that currently benefits half the U.S. population. If private employers can subsidize their workers’ health coverage inside the exchanges, which the statute appears to forbid, then they will have an incentive to “dump” their workers into the local exchange. (Could this be why President Obama suspended the employer mandate last month? In order to clear the way for massive employer dumping?)

3) The decision is massively unfair. Assuming point two is baseless speculation, no other Americans will get this special treatment.

We will have to see OPM’s official statement to know for sure. But in the meantime, we know this: the special exemption for Congress comes at Congress’s own request.