Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
July 28, 2015

Grassley Frustrated by Fight Over His Health Care Amendment

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said Thursday he is frustrated by the continuing battle over health benefits for members of Congress and their staff, which he attributes to a drafting mistake in the Affordable Care Act by Democrats.

Grassley sponsored the original amendment requiring lawmakers and staffers to enter the Obamacare exchanges, but he didn’t intend for them to lose the employer subsidy.

“It is frustrating, but it’s most frustrating because if they had let those of us who knew anything about health care draft this amendment, we wouldn’t have this controversy,” Grassley said.

Grassley said staff for Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., did not properly draft the statutory language for his amendment, omitting language that would have allowed lawmakers and staff to keep their employer contribution while in the exchanges.

After the Office of Personnel Management issued a ruling that allowed them to keep their employer contributions anyway, some in the GOP cried foul. An attempt by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., to reverse the OPM rule and expand the staff covered, including all political appointees, has since roiled the Senate.

Grassley has said repeatedly that the OPM rule was in line with the original intent of the amendment, despite the amendment not being his.

“You understand that when we adopt an amendment in [the] Finance [Committee], unlike other committees it’s not legal language,” he said. “We described it. But then it went to Reid’s office and when they put it in statutory language, they screwed that up.”

“You can call it anything you want to,” Grassley said when the language that became law was characterized as “a result of a drafting error.”

“But if you want to know the truth, they had people who didn’t know what they were doing. I don’t know what their intent was,” Grassley continued. “My goal, regardless of how the amendment was worded … was that we [in Congress] need to go into the exchange so that we would have to go through the same red tape as every other citizen.”

Grassley pointed to his work in 1995 on the Congressional Accountability Act, which applied 12 civil rights, labor and workplace safety laws (such as the Civil Rights Act, Americans With Disabilities Act and Family and Medical Leave Act) to Congress, which had exempted itself from those laws for decades.

As Grassley explained, “We didn’t have to abide by those laws; we’re employers, too, you know.”

Along those lines, the Iowa Republican said he wanted the Affordable Care Act to apply to Congressional employees as well.

“When I was holding my town meetings in 2009, my constituents said to me, ‘Well, if it’s good enough for us, isn’t it good enough for you?’ And that’s the theory behind my amendment,” Grassley said.

Regardless, if the Vitter amendment ever does get a vote, senators will have to make the politically difficult choice of whether to vote to preserve a major benefit for themselves and their staff.

UPDATE, Sept. 27 at 4 p.m.: Mark Harkins at the Georgetown University Government Affairs Institute has more details on how the language written into the ACA ended up dropping members of Congress and their staffs from qualifying for employer contributions. He writes that there were actually dueling provisions to force members of Congress and their staffers onto the exchanges. There was the measure from Grassley in the Finance Committee — which was more detailed and maintained employer contribution — and an amendment from Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which also marked up a health care bill.  Coburn’s language, as written, prevented members and staff from receiving contributions. It appears, based on text, Reid chose Coburn’s language over Grassley’s. You can watch fun video of Coburn and the 2009 HELP markup of the amendment here:


The more you know.

Comments (51)

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  1. Wheezy

    Sept. 26, 2013
    8:35 p.m.

    Grassley bowed out of the health care negotiations after falling for the “death panel” lies and deciding that it would be politically expedient to attack the law. Anything he says now should be taken with a grain of salt.

    • midwestconservative

      Sept. 26, 2013
      9:03 p.m.

      Apparently Howard Dean is also spreading the “death panel” lies.

    • voterid

      Sept. 26, 2013
      9:20 p.m.

      Wish you were a senior citizen about to get the “death panel lie” that you can’t have what you need to recover from a serious illness because your contribution to society is over…Anything you say is taken with a grain of salt.

      • me987654

        Oct. 1, 2013
        6:55 p.m.

        OMG, lunatics everywhere

  2. Wheezy

    Sept. 26, 2013
    10:56 p.m.

    Death panel charges are a lie.

    • mabramso

      Sept. 27, 2013
      2:31 a.m.

      It depends on what you mean by a death panel. All political discourse on both sides of the aisle is an exaggeration, as is your statement. There are administrative panels in the law, where bureaucrats make decisions on health care issues. Do they vote to kill people? No. Do they make decisions that could affect whether or not someone dies? Yes. But some of those decisions are made right now by insurance companies. So what’s the difference. The difference is that, when an insurance company does it, there is recourse. When the federal government does it, there are only the courts, and if a person doesn’t have a lot of time left, then adios. Is that a lie? No. But it’s exaggerated.

      • captdot

        Oct. 1, 2013
        12:09 p.m.

        Well said! The combo of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) and the Comparative Effectiveness Research Council, coupled with incentives to follow protocols without consideration of the human being in front of the physician, is dangerous. When protocols and recommendations become mandatory, there is the slippery slope.

      • captdot

        Oct. 1, 2013
        12:17 p.m.

        Hello again. I just saw another of your comments where you stated your past past experience. I too am retired military – 30 years in Navy Nurse Corps. Pleased to meet you! :-)

        • mabramso

          Oct. 1, 2013
          12:31 p.m.

          Nice to meet you too. I retired 5 years ago from the Air Force. I was a line officer, but had a very strange career. Retired as O-5 without ever having directly supervised anyone. Spent 10 of my 20 years in educational assignments, closed out with 6 years at AFIT as an associate professor of mathematics — best job I ever had.

          • Tom Butler

            Oct. 1, 2013
            6:33 p.m.

            I have a friend who has a very similar Air Force resume, albeit teaching engineering vs math. He made O-5 just a short time ago and still seems awkward with military protocol outside of academia.

          • captdot

            Oct. 3, 2013
            12:19 a.m.

            Great career! Our nephew is on active duty – Military Police – at I guess it’s Warren AFB, in Cheyenne. A cousin graduated from the AF Academy. I retired after 30 years as an 0-6, 12 years ago (can’t believe it’s been that long!). Dustas in order (otherwise, I know I’d forget): Naval hospitals Bethesda, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Philly, and Keflavik, Iceland; Naval Med. Clinic, Naval Weapons Center China Lake, CA; NavHosp Oakland, CA; Hospital ship, USNS Mercy – Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm; NavHosp Great Lakes, IL; Naval Ambulatory Care Center, Newport, RI. This government “stuff” is even crazier outside the “fog” of active duty, huh? Cheers! :-)

      • johnmartin

        Nov. 16, 2013
        8:07 p.m.

        Ridiculous. The insurance companies are interested in money and the government is trying to create an affordable health care system using PRIVATE INSURANCE COMPANIES that need to be regulated. Anyone who doesn’t understand that is being used.

        • mabramso

          Nov. 16, 2013
          8:23 p.m.

          “The government is trying to create” — you have nailed the problem! The insurance industry was heavily regulated way before the ACA. Now the federal government is telling the insurance companies what kinds of policies they can and cannot offer their customers, and we all see the results. Anything the government creates results in a worse product and a much higher price.

  3. iamhungry

    Sept. 27, 2013
    3:17 a.m.

    “Just cause it was my idea doesn’t mean it was my fault.”

    Nice try, Grassley.

  4. Layla

    Sept. 27, 2013
    1:41 p.m.

    I have a question. Shouldn’t there be a salary limit where you stop receiving taxpayer subsidies? Why am I subsidizing the healthcare of people who make $174,000.00 and I am unemployed? Many of you have more than one retirement package already behind you. What’s wrong with this picture? This may give you an idea why people are so very upset about this.

    Members of Congress should not be subsidized for these benefits or for their retirement. Perhaps if you had to deal with these issues as the average American must, we would not have reached the point where nobody in this country can afford healthcare and has no retirement savings left? Just a thought…

    • Wuthie

      Sept. 27, 2013
      8:39 p.m.

      Layla, there is a salary limit on those being subsidized. Getting your insurance from the exchanges doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to get subsidized. I believe if you are making over four times the poverty level you pay the full price of what ever coverage you choose. The amount of your subsidy is based on how far below the poverty live you are. The lower your earnings the more your subsidy. Congress wouldn’t get any subsidies.

      I think what Grassley was talking about is that his staff was getting health care from the government just like all federal employees. His amendment would require their staff to pick their healthcare from the exchanges. The subsidies he is talking about is the employer subsidies, not government subsidies.

      • Layla

        Sept. 27, 2013
        10:52 p.m.

        Wuthie, Few federal employees make $174,000 a year. Congress is now making 3-4 times what the average American is making. I don’t believe that was the intent of the Founders. I think it’s time for a Congressional pay cut, about 20%. And it’s time to end automatic pay raises.

        I know a little something about this having worked for 2 Members of Congress.

        At this point in time, Congress is being subsidized for their healthcare when they should not be due to their current salary level. Their subsidies come from the taxpayer, THEIR EMPLOYER.

        • Wuthie

          Sept. 28, 2013
          11:07 a.m.

          I won’t argue with what you said, except to say that we not only subsidize their health care, but their salary, business expenses and benefits package which includes healthcare. Most big corporation do that.

          We are their employer but unlike major corporations, they vote on their salary and benefits and we rarely know about it even though it’s available to check out. Most of us don’t have that much time.

  5. Layla

    Sept. 27, 2013
    1:46 p.m.

    It will be well worth the two minutes it requires to read this. It is quite
    impressive. You can be Republican, Democrat, Liberal, Conservative, Independent or Libertarian and I’ll bet that this will hit a nerve. Our country is in
    real trouble.

    3, 2013

    Patty Murray

    Maria Cantwell

    DC, 20510

    I have tried to live by the rules my entire life. My father was a Command
    Sergeant Major, U.S. Army, who died of combat related stresses shortly
    after his retirement. It was he who instilled in me those virtues
    he felt important – honesty, duty, patriotism and obeying the laws of God
    and of our various governments. I have served my country, paid my
    taxes, worked hard, volunteered and donated my fair share of money, time
    and artifacts.

    Today, as I approach my 79th birthday, I am heart-broken when I look at my
    country and my government. I shall only point out a very few things
    abysmally wrong which you can multiply a thousand fold. I have
    calculated that all the money I have paid in income taxes my entire life
    cannot even keep the Senate barbershop open for one year! Only
    Heaven and a few tight-lipped actuarial types know what the Senate dining
    room costs the taxpayers. So please, enjoy your haircuts and meals
    on us.

    Our House of Representatives and Senate have become America’s answer to the Saudi royal family. You have become the “perfumed princes and
    princesses” of our country.

    In the middle of the night, you voted in the Affordable Health Care Act,
    a.k.a. “Obama Care,” a bill of which no more than a handful of
    senators or representatives read more than several paragraphs, crammed it
    down our throats, and then promptly exempted yourselves from it,
    substituting your own taxpayer-subsidized golden health care insurance.

    You live exceedingly well, eat and drink as well as the “one
    percenters,” consistently vote yourselves perks and pay raises while
    making 3.5 times the average U.S. individual income, and give up nothing, while you and the Congress ask us to sacrifice due to sequestration.

    You understand very well the only two rules you need to know – (1) How to get
    elected, and (2) How to get re-elected. And you do this with the aid of
    an eagerly willing and partisan press, speeches permeated with a certain
    economy of truth, and by buying the votes of the greedy, the ill-informed
    and under-educated citizens (and non-citizens, too, many of whom do vote)
    who are looking for a handout rather than a job. Your so-called
    “safety net” has become a hammock for the lazy. And, what
    is it now, about 49 or 50 million on food stamps and the program is
    absolutely rife with fraud with absolutely no congressional oversight?

    I would offer that you are not entirely to blame. What changed you is
    the seductive environment of power in which you have immersed
    yourselves. It is the nature of both houses of Congress which
    requires you to subordinate your virtue in order to get anything done
    until you have achieved a leadership role. To paraphrase President
    Reagan, it appears that the second oldest profession (politics), bears a
    remarkably strong resemblance to the oldest.

    As the hirsute first Baron John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton (1834 – 1902),
    English historian and moralist, so aptly and accurately stated,
    “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
    Great men are almost always bad men.” I’m only guessing that
    this applies to the female sex as well. Tell me, is there a more corrupt
    entity in this country than Congress?

    While we middle class people continue to struggle, our government becomes less and less transparent, more and more bureaucratic, and ever so much more dictatorial, using Czars and Secretaries to tell us (just to mention a
    very few) what kind of light bulbs we must purchase, how much soda or
    hamburgers we can eat, what cars we can drive, gasoline to use and what
    health care we must buy. Countless thousands of pages of
    regulations strangle our businesses costing the consumer more and more
    every day.

    As I face my final year, or so, with Cancer, my president and my government
    tell me “You’ll just have to take a pill,” while you, Senator,
    your colleagues, the president, and other exalted government officials and
    their families will get the best possible health care on my tax dollars
    until you are called home by your Creator, while also enjoying a
    retirement beyond my wildest dreams, which of course, you voted for
    yourselves and we average Americans pay for.

    The chances of you reading this letter are practically zero as your staff will not
    pass it on, but with a little luck, a form letter response might be
    generated by them with an auto signature applied, hoping we will believe
    that you, our senator or representative, have heard us and actually
    care. This letter will, however, go online where many others will
    have the chance to read one person’s opinion, rightly or wrongly, about
    this government, its administration and its senators and representatives.

    I only hope that occasionally you might quietly thank the taxpayer for
    all the generous entitlements which you have voted yourselves, for which,
    by law, we must pay, unless, of course, it just goes on the $17 trillion
    national debt for which your children and ours, and your grandchildren
    and ours, ad infinitum, must eventually try to pick up the tab.

    My final thoughts are that it must take a person who has either lost
    his or her soul, or conscience, or both, to seek re-election and continue
    to destroy this country I deeply love and put it so far in debt that we
    will never pay it off, while your lot improves by the minute, because of
    your power. For you, Senator, will never stand up to the rascals in
    your House who constantly deceive the American people. And that, my
    dear Senator, is how power has corrupted you and the entire Congress. The
    only answer to cleaning up this cesspool is term limits. This, of course,
    will kill the goose that lays your golden eggs. And woe be to him
    (or her) who would dare to bring it up.


    Bill Schoonover
    3096 Angela Lane
    Oak Harbor, WA 98277

    • WiselySaid

      Oct. 13, 2013
      9:16 a.m.

      Yeah, if only half of what you claim is true, it would be an outrage!

  6. Montesquieu

    Oct. 1, 2013
    12:29 a.m.

    If free markets are to work well, civilized moral standards and proven legal principles must be in place to guide separate competitors working independently in the marketplace.

  7. johnmartin

    Nov. 16, 2013
    8:05 p.m.

    Why is Chuck saying he doesn’t know anything about the bills he votes into law? Whether he votes yea or nay, he should read the damn bill.

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