Monday, October 21, 2013
Senator Rand Paul introduced a constitutional amendment today that would require Congress to apply laws equally to U.S. citizens and to Congress. Politico reports here; Senator Paul's press release is here.
The proposed amendment reads,
Section 1. Congress shall make no law applicable to a citizen of the United States that is not equally applicable to Congress.
Section 2. Congress shall make no law applicable to a citizen of the United States that is not equally applicable to the executive branch of Government, including the President, Vice President, ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and all other officers of the United States, including those provided for under this Constitution and by law, and inferior officers to the President established by law.
Section 3. Congress shall make no law applicable to a citizen of the United States that is not equally applicable to judges of the Supreme Court of the United States, including the Chief Justice, and judges of such inferior courts as Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.
Section 4. Nothing in this article shall preempt any specific provision of this Constitution.
The proposed amendment comes amid continuing calls to apply the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, equally to government officers and employees. In particular, opponents of the health care law argue that it exempts members and employees of Congress. This isn't exactly correct: the law requires members and employees to enter health exchanges, but an OPM rule issued in September said that they will continue to receive federal employer contributions to help them pay for insurance on the exchanges. Here's the kick: they have to buy insurance in an appropriate Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, in order to get the government contribution. SHOP programs are ordinarily available only for employees of businesses with fewer than 50 workers. Members and employees of Congress number around 16,000. Thus the claim that they're exempt.
Still, it persists. But if Senator Paul's proposed amendment is taking aim at an "exemption," it'll miss the mark. That's not only because there is no exemption. It's also because members and staff (and all federal employees) previously received employer-provided health insurance, like many employees. But under the ACA, members and staff (unlike any other employees) are required to enter exchanges to get their insurance. They can opt for a SHOP plan and get a subsidy, or they can opt for a non-SHOP plan and waive the subsidy. Either way, the ACA simply replaced their previous employer-provided insurance with a requirement to enter the exchange and, if they enroll in a SHOP plan, get a subsidy.
At the same time, the ACA will (eventually) require employers to provide insurance options for their employees.
So taking all this together, as to members and employees of Congress, the net result of Senator Paul's proposed amendment would probably mean that Congress would revert back to the employer-provided insurance system in place before the ACA, not take away the phantom "exemption" or the SHOP subsidy.