FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Democrats Reject Two Measures to Create Parity Between Congress’ Health Coverage and the Public’s
Bringing the Public’s Coverage to the Congressional Level
House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats voted 31-28 to reject an amendment from Reps. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Phil Gingrey (R-GA), and Lee Terry (R-NE) that would have opened up the multiple-plan health coverage options available to Members of Congress to the public at large.
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), who spoke at length yesterday about the need to ensure Americans have access to the same quality health coverage that Congress gets, came out against the measure when the Republican trio offered him a chance to put his vote where his mouth was.
“People will say to us, ‘Why can’t we have the same thing you guys have?’” said Gingrey. “We ought to give everybody in this country an opportunity to get this.”
E&C Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) responded that, in his view, opening up the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan to the general public was unacceptable “because it strikes the public plan.” E&C Health Subcommittee Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) said the proposal to let the public into Congress’ health plan was based on “a false assumption” that the result “is going to be somehow better” than segregating Congress’ health care from that of the great unwashed.
Bringing Congress’ Coverage to the Public Level
A separate amendment sponsored by Rep. Roy Blunt would have put all members of the committee on the record about the desirability of the Democrats’ “public option” by forcing them to vote for or against the automatic enrollment of all federal elected officials from Congress to the President in that public health coverage plan.
“We’ve been challenged by many constituents that ‘if there’s going to be this government plan, shouldn’t you be a part of it?’ I agree with my constituents that if were going to pass this plan, we ought to put ourselves in it,” said Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE). North Carolina Republican Sue Myrick concurred, saying, “If this is a good plan for them, it ought to be good enough for us.”
With its mandatory subjection of Washington officials to the same health coverage those officials have been working to force the American public into, Blunt’s proposal was indeed, as Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) put it, “a put-up-or-shut-up amendment.”
Rather than either put up or shut up, though, Waxman saved his fellow pro-government health insurance colleagues (and his endangered Blue Dog coalition) from having to go on the record about their willingness to accept the same health coverage they are offering the rest of America by dismissing the amendment on procedural grounds without holding a vote.
In an ultimate CYA cop-out move, Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) argued that the amendment was outside the jurisdiction of the committee because it would affect the benefits of members of Congress. Waxman upheld her with a ruling of the chair, and the amendment was dismissed.
Being All-Powerful Has Its Advantages
Meanwhile, in an unrelated vote, House E&C Democrats defeated an amendment (32-23) that would have prohibited the federal government from using tax incentives and other governmental powers to give the “public option” a competitive advantage over private insurers in open competition.
Rep. George Radanovich’s (R-CA) amendment would have prohibited the federal government from employing special tax breaks and favorable regulation on behalf of the “public option.”
Rep. Christopher Murphy (D-CT) argued that the government-run health coverage program was really a nonprofit, and that as such it would be unfair to prevent it from receiving preferential tax treatment. Pallone went one further, arguing that the government-run health plan should be able to borrow cash from other federal agencies’ budgets in order to assuage any losses incurred by providing subsidized coverage to a massive swath of the American population — something that would ensure a competitive advantage for the program by further removing any need to minimize losses in the marketplace.