Chuck Grassley

Congressional Staff to Feel ObamaCare Pain in 2014

Chuck Grassley

If you can’t beat them, force them to join their own thing.

That may as well have been Senator Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) motto in 2009 when he introduced an amendment to PPACA to force members of Congress and their staff onto the ObamaCare exchanges.  In the private sector, this practice of dropping large employee groups or terminating employer-sponsored group health plans is referred to as “dumping” employees onto the ObamaCare exchange.  Congress and its staff will certainly feel dumped on come January 1, 2014, when they’re left to fend for themselves in the world of government-driven healthcare.

What is the FEHBP?

The Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) is the group health plan for federal government employees.  It’s the largest employer-sponsored plan in the country, covering 8 million enrollees.  That’s roughly the size of the entire population of the entire Commonwealth of Virginia.

Why Members of Congress and Staff Lose FEHBP Coverage as of January 1, 2014

PPACA Section 1312 explicitly requires that they go to the ObamaCare exchange:

Today in Liberty: IRS scandal is worse than we imagined; SCOTUS issues big win for cell phone privacy

“Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple — get a warrant.” — Chief Justice John Roberts

— Oh, wow, the IRS scandal just got a lot worse: Emails released by the House Ways and Means Committee reveal that disgraced IRS official Lois Lerner targeted Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), referring him to the agency for examination. “We have seen a lot of unbelievable things in this investigation, but the fact that Lois Lerner attempted to initiate an apparently baseless IRS examination against a sitting Republican United States Senator is shocking,” Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) said in a press release. “At every turn, Lerner was using the IRS as a tool for political purposes in defiance of taxpayer rights.  We may never know the full extent of the abuse since the IRS conveniently lost two years of Lerner emails, not to mention those of other key figures in this scandal. The fact that DOJ refuses to investigate the IRS’s abuses or appoint a special counsel demonstrates, yet again, this Administration’s unwillingness to uphold the rule of law.” Basically, Lerner received an invitation to an event that was intended for Grassley, and it looks like Grassley received hers. The group sponsoring the event, the name of which was redacted, offered to pay for his wife to come along. Lerner suggested that it was inappropriate and wrote: “Perhaps we should refer to Exam?”

Today in Liberty: Amateur hour at the Obama White House, Senate Republicans pushing for a new “Contract with America”

“I have been to the darkest corners of government, and what they fear is light.” — Edward Snowden

IA Senate: Bruce Braley’s gaffe wasn’t really a gaffe

Bruce Braley

Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) is still dealing with the fallout from a video leaked last Tuesday, National Agriculture Day, by America Rising.

In the video, the Iowa Democrat told a group of Texas trial lawyers that they should help him in what could be a contentious race that decides control of the chamber this fall, but, in doing so, Braley came across like he looks down on farmers, including Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

“To put this in stark contrast, if you help me win this race, you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice,” Braley told the group. “Someone who’s been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years, in a visible and public way, on the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

“Or, you might have a farmer from Iowa, who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee,” he said to snickers in the room. “Because if Democrats lose the majority, Chuck Grassley will be chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

IA Senate: Democrat insults Iowa farmers while seeking money from trial lawyers

Bruce Braley

The agriculture industry is a pretty big deal in Iowa. The state is the nation’s largest corn producer, according to the Iowa Corn Growers Association, yielding 2.2 billion bushels in 2013. The state is also known for its pork, which accounts for 28% of all of the delicious pork products produced in the United States.

Needless to say, farming and agriculture is a part of life in Iowa. Which is why it’s strange that Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA), who is running for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat, insulted many of his would-be constituents while trying to make an appeal to trial lawyers at an event in Texas.

“To put this in stark contrast, if you help me win this race, you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice,” Braley told the group of trial lawyers. Someone who’s been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years, in a visible and public way, on the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

“Or, you might have a farmer from Iowa, who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee,” he said to snickers in the room. “Because if Democrats lose the majority, Chuck Grassley will be chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

Some Hill staffers will avoid Obamacare exchanges

Not only will congressional staffers get to keep their hefty subsidy for health insurance, it turns out that at least some will be able to avoid a provision of Obamacare requiring them to purchase coverage on D.C.’s health insurance exchange and, instead, keep their current plan:

In what members of both parties said was a surprise, guidance on Tuesday from the chief administrative officer of the House said lawmakers could privately designate personal office aides as not “official,” meaning they do not have to go on the exchange and could keep their current plan. Similarly, House lawmakers can decide that their committee and leadership staffers need to go on D.C.’s exchanges.
[…]
Similar guidance was distributed in the Senate last week, where at least one senator not in committee or party leadership was looking at using a “liberal” interpretation of the rules to exempt aides from the exchanges, sources said. But it will be difficult for rank-and-file senators to escape public scrutiny if they choose to keep their aides off the exchanges, given senators’ more prominent stature and fewer numbers than House members.

Some House lawmakers are saying that in the face of vague rules, they will make their own determination about what to do.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, says he’ll declare his entire staff — including aides in his personal office — not “official.” They can then keep their current plan, which they bought under the FEHBP.

Congressional ObamaCare fix sends the wrong message to Americans

The ObamaCare fix — or “exemption” — for members of Congress and staffers is sure to become an electoral talking point in 2014. In fact, it already is. Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) is already using it in his race against Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR), which is a crucial election if Republicans hope to take control of the Senate.

The Club for Growth, which has endorsed Cotton, is also using the fix against Pryor, and it’s likely to be featured in other races around the country. But some Capitol Hill staffers resent the fact that their health insurance subsidy was a frequent Republican talking point and has now become an electoral punchline.

Fearing “brain drain” on the Hill due to increase healthcare costs, congressional leaders from both parties, including Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), and President Obama lobbied Office of Personal Management (OPM) to continue the 75% employer contribution that had been in place before ObamaCare rather than have to pay the difference out-of-pocket.

Nothing has changed in regard to members and staffers. They are still expected to get on the exchanges. That’s not in question. The controversy — the “exemption,” as it’s sometimes called — is the 75% premium subsidy that the OPM recently gave to members of Congress and staffers.

That controversy is that the subsidy is far greater than most subsidies on the health insurance exchanges, which some feel is “special treatment.”

Did a White House staffer have private tax records? We may never know…

Koch brothers

We all by now know that the IRS inappropriately targeted Tea Party and other conservative groups that were merely trying to get involved in the political process. But what you may not know is that there was an investigation into whether or not a former White House official discussed the tax returns of Koch Industries.

What makes this unique is that this company is owned by Charles and David Koch, brothers who frequently finance or donate to conservative and libertarian cause. The White House as well as most Democrats view the Koch brothers as boogymen and have used them in often misleading talking points about campaign finance.

Back in 2010, then-White House economic advisor Austan Goolsbee apparently discussed the Koch brothers tax records during a press briefing. The Treasury Department’s Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), at the urging of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and other members, announced that he would investigate the matter.

The National Review reported yesterday that the investigation is completely, however, the report will not be made available to Koch Industries or Sen. Grassley:

Email privacy reform stalled in Senate

email

Legislation that would require federal law enforcement agencies obtain a warrant before accessing Americans’ emails has been stalled in the Senate due to an anonymous hold by an unnamed Republican:

An anonymous Republican senator has delayed a vote on legislation that would require police to obtain a warrant before accessing emails and other online messages.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) pushed for a vote on the bill before Congress left for its August recess. He secured unanimous support from Democrats, but at least one Republican objected to the bill, according to a Democratic Senate aide.

Leahy had hoped to fast-track the bill to passage with unanimous support, but the opposition means a vote will be delayed until at least September.

A Leahy aide said the senator will continue to work with Republicans to address their concerns. The Senate could pass the legislation without unanimous support, but it would take up valuable floor time to override a filibuster.

Assault Weapons Ban Goes Down in Flames

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) lost her push today for renewal of the Assault Weapons Ban. Feinstein, who authored a similar law in 1994, made a plea during her short speech on the floor prior to the vote, but acknowledged that she knew “how this was going to end.”

The amendment targeted semi-automatic firearms simply because of cosmetics and dubbed them as “assault weapons.” Supporters of the amendment tried to make it sound like it the guns being targeted were automatic weapons or machine guns. Those types of weapons are already banned by law.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) noted that the Assault Weapons Ban didn’t prevent Columbine and wouldn’t have prevented Newtown. He also warned that passing the amendment could lead would open the door for further abuses of the Bill of Rights.

The Senate overwhelming voted against Feinstain’s Assault Weapons Ban by a vote of 40 to 60. The only Republican to support the amendment was Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL). Twelve Democrats, most of which are from red states, opposed the ban — Sens. Mark Begich (D-AK), Joe Donnelley (D-IN), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Jon Tester (D-MT), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mark Udall (D-CO), Tom Udall (D-NM), Mark Pryor (D-AK), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Max Baucus (D-MT).

The two biggest parts of the package pushed by President Obama — background checks and the Assault Weapons Ban — have been struck down. That’s a lot of political capital wasted with nothing to show for it.


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