Vitter wants Ethics to probe Reid

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is demanding that the Senate Ethics Committee investigate Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

Vitter’s request comes after reports that Democrats were considering embarrassing the Louisiana Republican by bringing up legislation alluding to his prostitution scandal.

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Vitter accuses Democrats of “bribery” based on news reports that said they are considering legislation that would withhold member healthcare benefits from lawmakers who support a specific healthcare measure sponsored by the Louisiana Republican. 

Vitter's measure is meant to force lawmakers and their staffs to buy health insurance on ObamaCare exchanges without getting any federal contributions.

Democratic senators have circulated legislation that would deny federal healthcare contributions to members and aides who have solicited prostitution or engaged in improper conduct — a direct jab at allegations that Vitter was involved in a prostitution ring in 2007.

Vitter’s letter to Ethics doesn’t mention the prostitution scandal, but accuses Democrats of breaking ethics rules.

“This is attempted bribery, and the exact sort of behavior that the Senate Ethics Committee has previously condemned,” Vitter said in a letter to the leaders of the Ethics panel.

Vitter said Reid and Boxer, who is chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, should be made to answer whether they were complicit in the reported plan or if they had any knowledge of it.

A spokeswoman for Reid called the allegations baseless.

"Senator Vitter's charges are absurd and baseless," Kristen Orthman said. "This is nothing more than Senator Vitter's desperate attempt to change the subject from his previous ethics issues."

Boxer shot back that Vitter's allegations are beneath the chamber. 

“Senator Vitter has manufactured a bizarre and phony attack that demeans the Senate,” Boxer said in a statement. 

Vitter has irritated Democrats in recent days by stalling a vote on an energy efficiency bill unless he gets a vote on an amendment to end what he calls an “exemption” for members of Congress in the healthcare law.

Vitter requested that Boxer, who heads the Ethics Committee as well, recuse herself from the investigation, and called on Boxer to be removed from the committee if she was “complicit in this scheme.”

He argued that Senate rules prohibit the threat of financial penalty to influence votes. By withholding healthcare subsidies from members who vote for his plan, Vitter argues members would be financially penalized.

“The Senate Ethics Manual makes clear that personal financial penalties may not be used to induce Senators to take an official act,” Vitter said. “In addition, this Committee has been clear that Senators may not hold government officials captive by tying their personal finances or benefits to their official acts.”

The Office of Management and Personnel earlier this year issued a ruling that would allow members and their staff to continue to receive federal healthcare subsidies on the newly created health exchanges.

The federal government, like many large-scale employers, now subsidizes premium costs for congressional employees. The healthcare bill demanded that members and their staff enter the exchanges but was silent on whether the subsidies could continue.

Vitter’s amendment would end those subsidies and require the executive branch to comply with the same rules as Congress. 

This story was updated at 6:09 p.m.