Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 10, 2016

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.”

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