In 2010, FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, attempted to debunk a rumor that the pending Obamacare legislation exempted members of Congress and their staffs from its provisions. They snarkily replied, “No. This twisted claim is based on misrepresentations of the House and Senate bills, neither of which exempts lawmakers.”
Members of Congress are subject to the legislation’s mandate to have insurance, and the plans available to them must meet the same minimum benefit standards that other insurance plans will have to meet. “All plans would have to follow those requirements by 2019,” Aaron Albright, press secretary for the House Committee on Education and Labor, told FactCheck.org. “People actually believe we wrote in the bill that Congress exempts itself from these requirements. That falsehood has been going around since the very beginning.”
You can almost hear the exasperation in Mr. Albright’s voice. How could anyone think that the same members of Congress who believed the legislation was good for America would exempt themselves from its provision? Do we think lawmakers and their staff are a bunch of hypocrites?
Well, yes. Yes we do.
Is anyone (other than Mr. Albright and the folks at FactCheck.org) really surprised that Congress is now trying to find a way to exempt themselves from the law they foisted on the rest of America?
Congressional leaders in both parties are engaged in high-level, confidential talks about exempting lawmakers and Capitol Hill aides from the insurance exchanges they are mandated to join as part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, sources in both parties said.
The talks — which involve Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Obama administration and other top lawmakers — are extraordinarily sensitive, with both sides acutely aware of the potential for political fallout from giving carve-outs from the hugely controversial law to 535 lawmakers and thousands of their aides. Discussions have stretched out for months, sources said.
A source close to the talks says: “Everyone has to hold hands on this and jump, or nothing is going to get done.”
Yet if Capitol Hill leaders move forward with the plan, they risk being dubbed hypocrites by their political rivals and the American public. By removing themselves from a key Obamacare component, lawmakers and aides would be held to a different standard than the people who put them in office.
Congress frequently exempts itself from laws that apply to the rest of America, which is despicable, but not all that shocking. But what makes this situation particularly galling is that Congress was in no rush to provide a religious liberty exemption so that thousands of employers do not have to violate their conscience. They stood by silently as companies like Hobby Lobby were threatened with fines of up to $1.3 million per day. Yet now, as Politico reports, they are “concerned about the hit to their own wallets.”
When Nancy Pelosi was Speaker of the House she said about Obamacare, “We have to pass the bill so that you find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.” Now that the fog of controversy has subsided the lawmakers have found out what is in it—and they don’t like how it affects them.
But the rule of law requires that every citizen is subject to the law. We can’t have one set of laws for Americans and a separate set of exemptions for our lawmakers. As Samuel Rutherford wrote in Lex Rex (1644),
That the king bind himself to the same law that he doth bind others, is decent, and obligeth the king as he is a man; because, 1. (Matt. vii. 12,) It is said to be the law and the prophets, ” All things whatsoever ye would men should do unto you, do ye even so to them.”
Congress may have granted themselves the legal authority, but they don’t have the moral right to exclude themselves from the laws they pass that bind us. If the King is not above the law, neither are you, Madame Senator and Mr. Congressman.