Tuesday morning, House Republican leaders released a new plan to end the government shutdown and prevent America from defaulting on its debts if the Senate and President Obama agree to several policy demands. One of these demands would take away Members of Congress’ ability to receive an employer contribution to help pay for their health insurance, a benefit they — like all federal employees — currently enjoy.
There’s just one problem with this proposal, it’s unconstitutional unless it’s delayed for more than a year.
The Twenty-Seventh Amendment to the Constitution provides that “[n]o law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.” A law eliminating federal contributions to congressmembers’ health benefits is a law “varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives.” So it cannot take effect until after the next federal election in November 2014.
Although the text of the House GOP’s latest proposal is not yet available, they passed similar language denying health care contributions to members of Congress and other select federal employees during an earlier round of the shutdown showdown. That language contains no provision delaying the changes in congressional compensation until after the 2014 election — “[n]o Government contribution under section 8906 of title 5, United States Code, shall be provided on behalf of an individual who is a Member of Congress, congressional staff, the resident, the Vice President, or a political appointee for coverage under this subparagraph.”
Assuming the new proposal’s language tracks the language the House GOP already voted for late last month, the new proposal is unconstitutional.