According to a new report in Politico, "documents and emails" reveal that Speaker of the House John Boehner worked quietly and behind-the-scenes to preserve the very same health care subsidies for members of Congress and Hill aides that he now wants repealed as part of a budget deal.
Politico reports that despite his attaching a ban of the subsidies to the House's latest draft of a continuing resolution to fund the government, Speaker Boehner spent "months" working with Senate and House Democrats to find a way to preserve them. Boehner even wanted a meeting with President Obama to discuss the issue, and also wondered whether a provision maintaining the subsidies might be slipped into an unrelated bill.
"When I was in the state legislature, we used to stick things in [bills] and no one would notice,” a Poltico source reports Boehner saying during a private meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Although the Oval Office session with Obama never came off, a senior Boehner aide spoke directly to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough about the speaker’s desire to retain the employer contribution for lawmakers and staff.
The issue of whether lawmakers and staff will continue to receive the employer contribution from the federal government — estimated at between $5,000 to $12,000 annually — has become political kryptonite on Capitol Hill. As part of the Affordable Care Act, lawmakers and aides are required to join insurance exchanges that begin operating on Tuesday, the same day the government shut down.
OPM initially ruled that lawmakers and staffers couldn’t receive the subsidies once they went into the exchanges. This caused an uproar in Congress, since lawmakers and aides were going to be treated differently than millions of Americans who receive these same subsidies from their employers. Lawmakers and aides argued they weren’t seeking special treatment, but a level playing field with everyone else.
Under heavy pressure from Hill Democrats, Obama and top White House aides got personally involved in the dispute. OPM then reversed course and issued a regulation saying the subsidies would go on.
Boehner, however, injected the issue into the government-shutdown debate by attaching a measure to end the subsidies to a House GOP funding bill, which Senate Democrats adamantly oppose.