House Democrats are trying to keep the spotlight on Congressman-elect Andy Harris of Maryland. They're demanding that Republicans in Congress declare whether they plan to use taxpayer-subsidized health insurance for themselves and their families, even as they call for repeal of the new health care law.
Harris, you may recall, got unwanted publicity on Capitol Hill after he asked about health benefits during a private briefing for 250 newly elected House members, staff and family this week. The Baltimore County Republican was reported to have expressed surprise that the federal health care plan, which is offered to all federal employees and members of Congress, would not start covering new congressmen until almost a month after they are sworn in.
Four House Democrats, including Rep. Donna Edwards of Maryland, began circulating an appeal to their colleagues in an effort to keep the story alive. So far, 35 congressional Democrats have agreed to sign a letter to Republican leaders about the issue.
The Democrats' letter said that Harris, described only as "a Republican Member-elect who ran on a platform of repealing" the new health care law "complained about a possible delay in the start of his employer-subsidized Federal Employees Health Benefits coverage."
The Democrats added that "[u]nfortunately, Republicans, like [the unnamed Harris], are happy to receive care that is paid for, in part, with taxpayer funds, but do not want to extend a similar benefit to hard-working, under- or uninsured Americans." According to the Democrats, the federal government -- the taxpayers -- will pay $10,503.48 of the premiums for each member of Congress who chooses a family policy under the Blue Cross standard option offered by the FEHB program.
The letter went on to demand that Republican leaders survey their members "to find out which of their members will forgo the employer-subsidized Federal Employees Health Benefits coverage before trying to make it harder for others to obtain affordable coverage."
In football, they call it piling on. In politics, there's no such infraction.
Harris did not respond to a request for comment sent to his spokeswoman.
In addition to Edwards, the Democrats circulating the letter are Reps. Joseph Crowley of New York, Linda T. Sánchez of California and Tim Ryan of Ohio.
Below is the full text of the Democrats' letter: Dear Senator McConnell and Representative Boehner:
We were surprised to read in today's article "GOP frosh: Where's My Health Care?" in Politico that some of your incoming members are unhappy with the health benefits they are eligible to purchase under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) – particularly the fact that there is a delay before benefits take effect. Ironically, this is the same predicament millions of Americans currently find themselves in.
It is amazing that your members would complain about not having health care coverage for a few weeks, even after campaigning to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which will help provide coverage to millions of Americans who find themselves without health insurance for months or even years.
We also find it interesting that members of the Republican conference would have no problem taking away health coverage from hard-working Americans, but expect expanded coverage for themselves and their families. The system set up by the Affordable Care Act will allow Americans to choose the plan that works best for them from a variety of private insurance plans, just like the FEHB program that members of Congress are now able to access. The uninsured, small-business employees, and the self-employed will now be able to benefit from this same choice and competition.
It begs the question: how many members of the Republican conference will be forgoing the employer-subsidized FEHBP coverage and experiencing what so many Americans find themselves forced to face? If your conference wants to deny millions of Americans affordable health care, your members should walk that walk. You cannot enroll in the very kind of coverage that you want for yourselves, and then turn around and deny it to Americans who don't happen to be Members of Congress. It is worth noting that in 2011, the Federal government will pay $10,503.48 of the premiums for each member of Congress with a family policy under the commonly-selected Blue Cross standard plan.
It is important for the American people to know whether the members of Congress and members-elect who have called for the repeal of health insurance reform are going to stand by their opposition by opting out of the care available to them at the expense of hard-working taxpayers. We look forward to your response in the coming days about exactly how many of the members in the Republican conference will be declining their taxpayer-supported health benefits.