The Big Lie That Congress Is Exempt from Obamacare

No, members of Congress and their workers are not getting special treatment under the health care law.

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Many lies persist simply because they sound plausible, or because they appear to confirm details of a broader trend that may well, in fact, be true. Decades ago, an upstate New York  black teenager named Tawana Brawley was found in a trash bag, smeared with feces and with racial epithets written on her. She said she had been raped by six white men, and the charges – while horrifying – had the ring of truth. 

It appeared to be a racist attack; why else would she be in such a condition? A grand jury found otherwise, and a prosecutor who was among the accused successfully sued her for defamation.

When Anthony Weiner at first denied he had sent photos of himself in his underpants to women on the Internet, suggesting his Twitter account had been hacked, it seemed plausible. His very name invited junior high school-level jokes, and people's email and Twitter accounts are getting hacked all the time (not counting anything done by the NSA). Also, it just seemed insane that a sitting member of Congress, someone who had made no secret of his plans to seek the office of New York City mayor, would do something so categorically stupid and reckless. And yet, he did, and now he's paying the price for it in the polls.

Everybody, or almost everybody, hates Congress these days, and there's a determined group which really hates President Obama. So when conservatives and media types and even actual members of Congress –who should know better – make a claim about Congress getting special treatment under the new health care law, it seems like it would make sense. Congress and the Obama administration? Sparing the government  from rules and regulations the rest of us have to follow? Well, doesn't that sound like just the sort of thing those entitled rascals would do!

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Except that it's untrue. The Obama administration indeed made a fix to the way congressional employees will get their health care, but it was a fix that brought the workers back into the mainstream, putting them in the same category as the rest of us.

When Obamacare was being debated, opponents did everything they could to peel away support by raising issues ranging from "death panels" (a lie) and abortion (an issue sure to aggravate people on all sides). One item that did pass was a provision that required Congress and its employees to use the health care exchanges created for people who are uninsured or individually insured.

The exchanges might save a lot of people money; they might not. We'll see. But people who work for large employers don't have to think about it, since their employers are required to provide health insurance to full-time workers under the law.

The federal government, being quite a big employer, falls into this category. But Obamacare opponents, either out of spite or a desperate effort to kill the overall bill once and for all, stuck in a provision that requires congressional workers to use the exchanges anyway. This, in effect, is a special exception – except that the special exception didn't benefit Congress; it punished it. It would have created a situation under which every full-time employee of a large company in the country would get coverage through work except for Congress and its employees. Obama's recent edict ensures that the federal government will continue to make payments towards congressional employees health care – just as big employers must do across the country.

The amendment was petty and absurd. It was meant to flip a couple of votes, and it didn't work. The Obama administration directive doesn't fit into the convenient lie that government big-wigs are "exempting" themselves from the law. But we should all expect the government to live by the same laws the rest of us do – and that's what the directive does.

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