Boehner’s New Demand: Rob Congressional Staff [Updated]

By
Senator, Statesman, Humanitarian, Patron of the Sexual Arts Photo: Win McNamee/2013 Getty Images

This morning's plan by John Boehner to pass a debt-ceiling increase and reopen the government, in return for some assorted goodies, fell apart. Now the House is moving on a new bill, which reopens the government and lifts the debt ceiling, with just one little demand attached: Screw congressional staffers out of their pay.

The policy is called the Vitter amendment, after Senator David Vitter, who is known for his love of prostitutes and diapers and hatred for Hill staffers. A good primer on the Vitter amendment can be found at the National Review, of all places. The short story: During the legislative fight over Obamacare, Senator Charles Grassley offered a "message amendment" that would force Congress and its staff to go on the exchanges created by the law, expecting his amendment to fail. Instead it passed. But it made no sense, because the law is designed for people who lack health insurance, and Congress and its staff have health insurance. The Obama administration tried to resolve the ambiguity by having congressional staff go on the exchanges but retain their current health-care subsidy.

Conservative media have tried to paint this state of affairs as "Congress exempting itself from Obamacare," but that's not true. Vitter's amendment would strip away the current employer subsidy for health insurance for congressional staffers — amounting to a simple pay cut. So the actual proposal here, if taken at face value, is to simply steal money from Hill staffers, or else the economy gets it. It's quite a comedown from the original plan to liberate America from Obamacare socialism.

In reality, the gambit is designed to place maximum pressure on Democrats. The advantage of this issue is that politicians can lie and claim it's about denying Congress's "special exemption," which sounds like the kind of outrageous giveaway those crooks in Washington would like. Democrats have refused to pay a ransom to lift the debt ceiling. Republicans are trying to cut the size of the ransom to the smallest level — which is to say, fighting to retain the principle of debt-ceiling extortion is the only victory they still care about.

Of course, every new John Boehner plan begins with confident claims that they will have the votes, and most of those plans wind up failing.

Update: ...and, sure enough, Heritage Action, the influential right-wing think tank, is urging Republicans to vote no, because the current plan does not defund Obamacare. It's even recording it as a "key vote," making Republicans especially likely to vote no. If Democrats vote in masse against the latest bill, only 17 Republican defections would doom the bill. Heritage Action's strong opposition makes those defections highly probable.

What next? If the House bill fails, then the Senate unveils its long-leaked, non-extortionist plan to reopen the government, lift the debt ceiling, and extract Republicans from the nightmare they created. At that point, Boehner probably just brings the Senate bill to the House floor at the last minute and lets Democrats pass it.

Update #2: The bill appears to have failed.