By Alexander Bolton - 09/13/13 09:50 AM EDT
House Republicans may force Senate Democrats to take a tough vote on subjecting lawmakers and congressional staff to ordinary treatment under ObamaCare in exchange for funding the government beyond September.
The goal would be to inflict maximum political damage on Senate Democrats if they refuse to delay the implementation of the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
If BoehnerJohn BoehnerTrump backers lack Ryan alternative Ryan has little margin for error in Speaker vote Top Lobbyists 2016: Hired Guns MORE chooses this option, Democrats would have to vote either to give Congress special treatment under ObamaCare — a politically unpopular move — or delay the implementation of the controversial law before getting a chance to consider the government funding bill.
It’s a twist on a plan that House Republican leaders presented earlier this week to the House GOP conference. Under that proposal, the Senate would have been forced to vote on defunding the Affordable Care Act prior to voting on the resolution to continue government operations.
House conservatives rejected that strategy because they expect Senate Democrats to summarily defeat any defunding proposal before moving on to approve government funding for October, November and part of December.
"This is one of many ideas various House Republican members have suggested [be] discussed," said a House GOP aide.
Some Republicans believe the new strategy would force Democrats to seriously consider delaying the implementation of ObamaCare to avoid the politically perilous move of granting themselves special treatment under the law.
“I think this idea might have some merit,” said a senior Senate GOP aide.
Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidFive takeaways from New Hampshire Senate debate Democrats pounce on Cruz's Supreme Court comments Senate Democratic super PAC sets fundraising record MORE (D-Nev.) on Thursday, however, rejected the notion that the healthcare law treats lawmakers and congressional staff differently from ordinary workers.
He said Democrats are willing to work with Republicans to improve the law but expressed frustration over politically motivated strategies.
“Our doors are open to anyone that wants to work together to improve this law and anything else we need to work on. So let's stop these really juvenile political games,” he said. “The one dealing with healthcare for senators and House members and our staff, we are going to be part of the exchanges.
“That's what the law says, and we'll be part of that,” he added. “We'll be treated like the rest of the federal employees. It's nothing unique that employers help pay for healthcare. Ford Motor Company, Sears, doesn't matter.”
A senior Senate Republican aide characterized Reid’s remarks as a sign Democrats feel vulnerable on the issue.
“He was very defensive about federal subsidies for congressional staff,” said the aide.
Another Senate source said polling data shows there is strong public support for requiring congressional members and staff to receive the same treatment under the healthcare law as all other citizens
The inspiration for the GOP strategy is an amendment Vitter has pushed this week on the Senate floor.
The Vitter bill would clarify the law to ensure that members of Congress do not have the authority to exempt so-called “official staff” from going into the healthcare exchange set up by ObamaCare.
Senate rules and a decision by the Office of Personal Management now leaves it up to individual congressional offices to decide whether staff may be exempted.
The Vitter bill clarifies that lawmakers, congressional staff, President Obama, Vice President Biden and political appointees are not eligible for Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan and must enter the exchange.
It would also prohibit lawmakers, staff, political appointees, the president and vice president from receiving federal subsidies and tax credits because most of them earn above the $43,000 maximum income threshold.
A Republican source said that if Democrats reject these restrictions, they would, in effect, be voting to give themselves special treatment under ObamaCare. They could escape political harm — or having to buy insurance through the exchanges without subsidies — by choosing to delay the law’s implementation, the source noted.
“There are a lot of discussions about how to deal with the continuing resolution and the issue of ObamaCare, and so we’re continuing to work with our members,” Boehner told reporters Thursday.
“There are a million options that are being discussed by a lot of people. When we have something to report, we’ll let you know,” he added.