Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 5, 2015

Graham Pushes Vitter Amendment to Any Debt Limit Deal

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

A Republican senator wants to vote on eliminating health care benefits for congressional staff and lawmakers as part of the current spending and debt debate.

And his name isn’t David Vitter.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told the conservative publication National Review he intended to object to moving forward with a debt limit deal unless it includes consideration of language regarding the employer contributions for members of Congress and congressional aides.

“Members of Congress and their staffs should not be exempted from Obamacare, and I’m going to insist that if the Senate wants to move forward on any deal, we have to overturn the [Office of Personnel Management’s] ruling on congressional employees,” Graham said in an interview.

The OPM has determined that members and their aides can keep getting employer contributions on the new Obamacare exchanges (which critics call subsidies). As #WGDB previously reported, that’s in line with the original intent of the amendment offered by Republican Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, although it doesn’t line up with the enacted language of the law.

A Graham aide explained that the South Carolina Republican intended to force a Senate vote on the issue, though his expectation was that an amendment would be adopted.

That would be news to Democrats, who have criticized the Vitter amendment as little more than a political stunt that would have consequences for not only members, but lower-paid employees.

Democratic aides went so far as to invoke Vitter’s past personal indiscretions in the debate over the amendment, a move that’s led to ethics complaints and no shortage of mudslinging.

“I don’t mind giving up mine,” Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill said of the federal contribution to her personal health insurance. “I’m in a much [better situation] than the young ladies and the young men that work for me that have just gotten out of college with large student debts and that are still trying to figure out if they can afford the rent in Washington, D.C., or the car payment in Columbia, Mo.”

At the end of the day, it might be untenable for a senator like Graham to use delaying tactics to try to force a vote if a deal’s reached between Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Given the Senate’s often slow-moving procedures, any individual senator raising formal objections could make it impossible to avert default after Oct. 17. A requirement for two debate-limiting cloture votes would certainly push the debate past that date.

The two party leaders talked by phone Sunday afternoon.

Still, the Vitter amendment might be a political winner for Graham and other GOP senators with their political bases seeking re-election or other office.

Asked about Vitter’s veracity on the issue last month, Reid said, “He can keep pushing this. Maybe it will help him get elected governor, which in my mind wouldn’t be a bad deal, if you know what I mean.”

Comments (66)

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  1. Annie Ashe Fields

    Oct. 13, 2013
    5:57 p.m.

    It’s MIND BLOWING that she said this. TRULY.

    –>> “Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill said of the federal contribution to her personal health insurance. ‘I’m in a much [better situation] than the young ladies and the young men that work for me that have just gotten out of college with large student debts and that are still trying to figure out if they can afford the rent in Washington, D.C., or the car payment in Columbia, Mo.'”

    Well then why did you vote for it????????????

    WHO did you think was going to pay for it? The young HAVE to! It’s the ONLY WAY this disaster can work!

    I can’t take it.


    100% of ALL OTHER “biz” in America do NOT get taxpayer funds to provide a 72% subsidy to their employees. It *is* a special deal.

    If it s*cks for us IT SHOULD S*CK FOR YOU TOO, Senator.

    You made your bed.

    Now lay in it.

    • S1AMER

      Oct. 13, 2013
      6:04 p.m.

      Something tells me you don’t know how workplace-based insurance works. Some employers pay 80-90% of the insurance premiums and deduct the other 10-20% from the employees’ paychecks. Some employers pay 50% or less. The federal government pays a portion of coverage for workers, and the workers pay the rest. In all cases, whatever the employer pays is a tax-free benefit to the workers.

      So, yes, it’s true that not all American businesses pay 72% of the cost of insurance for their employees, but many pay that much and more. And it’s a tax deduction for those employers, just like rent and salaries and postage and lots of other things.

      • califdemdreamer

        Oct. 14, 2013
        2:52 a.m.

        It seems to be a matter of fairness. I know I would certainly be upset if my employer took away their contribution towards my health insurance. Indeed, without it I wouldn’t be able to get insurance. Is Graham saying that just because your employer is the government that you shouldn’t get the same benefit(s) that employees elsewhere enjoy? I can’t imagine that even their own staffers are too happy about this.

  2. rhallnj

    Oct. 14, 2013
    6:50 a.m.

    The way this has to go next is that Obama declares a state of emergency due to the failure of Congress to do its job, and announces that all debts and bills will be paid, with enough borrowing to do so.

    • MrPete

      Oct. 14, 2013
      9:42 a.m.

      Guess what: debt service is relatively tiny, only $30B a month. They easily get enough for that. Even the crucial entitlements are easy.
      Moody’s has already weighed in that this is a smokescreen.

  3. Rumionemore

    Oct. 14, 2013
    10:59 a.m.

    Lindsey and David. What a pair.

  4. danshanteal

    Oct. 14, 2013
    2:26 p.m.

    Halloween is around the corner so a little more blood sucking by congress will get them through.

  5. YELL

    Oct. 16, 2013
    7:11 a.m.

    Slippery slope here. The rest of the Federal workforce (public servants) will be next. At least the pool would get deeper and in theory resulting in lower cost. So, in that case, would the GOP be inadvertently contributing to the success of Obama care?

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