Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 6, 2016

Durbin: Vitter Voted for Obamacare Contributions for Senators and Staff

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin came to the floor Tuesday morning to make an impassioned defense of employer contributions for members of Congress and their staffs under Obamacare now under assault by Sen. David Vitter.

“All that we are asking is that this group of individuals be treated the same as every other American with health insurance through their employment,” the Illinois Democrat said, speaking against the amendment the Louisiana Republican is seeking to offer to an unrelated energy efficiency bill.

Vitter wants to make a broader number of legislative and executive branch employees shift from the health plans available to most federal employees into the new health insurance exchanges established under Obamacare. In addition, some of those individuals would no longer be eligible for the employer contribution to help pay for the cost of the insurance coverage.

“My fear is that this isn’t the end of Sen. Vitter’s crusade against health insurance by employers,” Durbin said. “I think this is the first step. The next step could be to eliminate the employers’ contribution for health insurance across the board. That would be devastating. Absolutely devastating and fundamentally unfair.”

Durbin highlighted an amendment vote from consideration of the health care overhaul in which Vitter essentially voted in favor of maintaining the employer contribution in supporting an amendment offered by Iowa Republican Charles E. Grassley, a point that a Senate Democratic aide was quick to highlight. That language fell short of the votes needed to overcome a budgetary point of order.

Vitter’s refusal to allow any other amendments to proceed to the energy efficiency measure until he was assured a vote on his amendment stalled Senate floor activity last week. It also led to Democratic aides drafting a counter-proposal directed at cutting off employer contributions for those who engage in prostitution (Vitter has acknowledged having been a client of the D.C. Madam).

Vitter responded by calling for ethics investigations of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

Despite the obvious animosity, Reid signaled Tuesday morning on the floor that there could be a way forward for Vitter’s amendment to get a vote if Republicans and Democrats can reach a finite list of amendments to the energy efficiency bill. That possibility of a vote may be in part why Durbin gave the floor speech against it.

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