Everybody hates David Vitter: How the wingnut managed to tee off everyone in Washington

The Louisiana senator will not give up on his all-important campaign to screw over Hill staffers

Published May 13, 2015 1:44PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Sean Gardner)
(Reuters/Sean Gardner)

Sen. David Vitter is running for governor of Louisiana this year, and just about everyone on Capitol Hill hopes that he wins because they hate him, because he is useless and awful.

A brief recap of David Vitter's senatorial career: He got tied up in a 2007 prostitution scandal and ever since then has just sent out a bunch of press releases announcing various stunts to antagonize everyone. It's a strategy that's "worked," in the sense that he got easily reelected in 2010 and is in good position ahead of the governor's race. In terms of accomplishments and statesmanship, it's made him a joke, but maybe that's an old-fashioned assessment of value.

Vitter's pet project over the past couple of years (years!) has been to eliminate the employer contribution to health insurance plans for members of Congress and their staffers. During the Obamacare debate, Sen. Chuck Grassley introduced an amendment requiring members of Congress and Hill staffers to join the exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act. It was intended to embarrass Democrats into voting against it; instead Democrats embarrassed themselves by voting for it. This made for a very unusual situation, in which a small percentage of federal government employees were forbidden by law from receiving standard benefits offered by large employers. So the Office of Personnel Management drafted a workaround that would allow workers on Capitol Hill to apply an employer contribution to plans purchased through exchanges. Most people on the Hill let out a sigh of relief -- especially staffers.

Despite popular impressions, Hill staffers do not make tens of billions of dollars each per year. One of the perks of working for the federal government, or a lot of large employers, is the quality benefits package. If they were to lose these things they would all look for work elsewhere, especially if the elimination of the employer health care contribution isn't met with a corresponding increase in salary. Congress may be stupid now, but it would be even stupider if it lost all of its decent staffers.

David Vitter wants to eliminate this workaround. He wants to ensure that no one on Capitol Hill receives an employer contribution, i.e. he wants to cut their pay. He nearly got his way in September 2013, when the GOP was rummaging through some dumb ideas to save face with conservatives ahead of the government shutdown. It didn't happen.

Politico reported yesterday that Vitter is still going on about this, only now as head of a Senate subcommittee.

The most recent repudiation of Vitter, who’s running for Louisiana governor this year, came a month ago in the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, which he chairs. He tried to subpoena documents to investigate how members of Congress and their aides became eligible for health care under Obamacare’s D.C. exchange.

Five Republicans — including presidential candidate Rand Paul — blocked the request, angering Vitter and prompting an unusual round of second-guessing from GOP committee members over their chairman’s agenda.

"Within the chummy confines of the U.S. Senate," Politico writes, "Vitter has emerged as one of the most disliked members." It is not just this crusade about blocking members and staffers from receiving contributions from their employer for their health care. "[T]he two-year drive, his critics say, symbolizes an operating style that Vitter’s critics complain is consumed with public relations, even for an ambitious member of Congress: speeding in and out of meetings, railing about issues on the Senate floor but doing little to execute behind the scenes, firing off news releases left and right." Yup!

Maybe senators would have more respect for Vitter if his health care amendment stemmed from some sort of principle. (What principle that would be, I'm not particularly sure.) But it's obviously just something he's doing in his race for Louisiana governor. He wants to screw over Hill staffers because such a move will neatly pander to voters in Louisiana who want to see blood in the streets of Washington, and it doesn't matter whose blood that is. Then, if successful, he'll be out of town and it won't matter how his colleagues and Senate staffers view him. David Vitter is an asshole, the end.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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