The House Republicans’ latest deal to fund the government includes the “Vitter Amendment,” a proposal that removes the employer contributions for the insurance plans offered to Congress members and their staff. Without that employer contribution — which currently covers about 75 percent of Congressional staffers’ health costs — the lower-paid staffers on Capitol Hill will ultimately need to seek out government subsidies to purchase plans on the Obamacare exchanges.
Republicans typically frame the policy as a way to ensure that Congress doesn’t get a special “Obamacare exemption.” But that’s misleading. Obamacare doesn’t actually force employers to stop contributing to their employees’ premiums, and doesn’t intend to make subsidies available to people who can get health care through their job.
When it comes to the staff members who don’t make that much money, the Vitter Amendment will essentially amount to a big pay cut, since it will end up significantly hiking their premium costs. So it’s not surprising that the proposal isn’t sitting well with current and former Congressional employees. Speaking anonymously, several staffers are coming out against the policy, suggesting it will ultimately lead to a mass exodus from the Hill:
A rank-and-file Republican staffer: “I understand it politically, and as a talking point. But Congress literally threw staff under the bus on this… You’re hurting staff assistants who are sorting your mail.” [Mother Jones]
A House Republican staffer: “For those congressional staffers saying they agree and support their bosses call for the Vitter amendment, which is a major morale killer and kick in the gut to staff, all I have to say is stop drinking [the Koolaid].” [The New Yorker]
A former Republican staffer: “As a former GOP Chief, this sucks for staff. You’re now essentially saying we shutdown the government and threatened the full faith and credit of the United States just so that we can screw our underpaid, overworked, under-appreciated staff. It’s a big middle finger to folks who give up their entire lives for what is now a very crappy job… I’d think the brain drain on the Hill will likely be quick and dramatic over the next year if this becomes law.” [The New Yorker]
A junior staffer: “It’s honestly a little confusing for junior staff. Under my current plan (pre-exchange), with no subsidy, my premium would quadruple… Frankly, some of us may move up the ladder a little quicker if there truly is an exodus. But who knows how it will turn out. Either way, I’d love to give the full Vitter a full Nelson.” [Slate]
A House Republican staffer: “It’s definitely a morale killer. We’ve been dealing with stagnant pay, long hours — including weekends and federal holidays — but hey, at least we have good benefits. This will suck. I know the public doesn’t have much sympathy, but these are not easy jobs. If they hate Congress, imagine working for it.” [The New Yorker]
President Obama has already indicated he won’t sign a measure that includes the Vitter Amendment. And after House Republicans failed to bring their proposal to a vote on Tuesday night, the Senate is now taking up the negotiations, and Vitter’s policy will likely be off the table altogether in a potential budget deal.
But the so-called “brain drain” may still be a risk, as notoriously underpaid Hill staffers are faced with repeated furloughs and uncertainty about their future benefits packages. Earlier this month, the National Journal reported that short-term recruitment on the Hill is becoming difficult amid the current atmosphere.
“I can report that the brain drain is already happening,” Brad Fitch, who runs the Congressional Management Foundation, told the National Journal. “We got a call from a staff member who has been working on Capitol Hill for 30 years to ask, ‘Do you have any openings?’ “