Much of the talk at President Obama’s meeting with congressional Democrats yesterday was moaning and groaning about how the Obamacare legislation requires congressional staffers — uniquely of all federal employees — to get health insurance through the Obamacare exchanges. It will cost far more than under the current Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan — $5,000 more for individuals, $11,000 more for families, according to the New York Times — and many staffers are threatening to quit.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously said that Congress needed to pass the bill in order for people to find out what was in it. The provision in question was apparently discovered by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service 10 days after Barack Obama signed the bill. Too late! Now both Democratic and Republican members of Congress are complaining, probably correctly, that they’re going to lose valuable staffers because of Obamacare.
This might not have happened if the fellow partisans of the 44th president had not heeded the counsel of the 4th president, James Madison. In "Federalist 57", Madison addressed the Anti-Federalist argument that members of the House of Representatives would elevate themselves above the people who elect them.
“I will add, as a fifth circumstance in the situation of the House of Representatives, restraining them from oppressive measures, that they can make no law which will not have its full operation on themselves and their friends, as well as on the great mass of the society. This has always been deemed one of the strongest bonds by which human policy can connect the rulers and the people together. It creates between them that communion of interests and sympathy of sentiments of which few governments have furnished examples; but without which every government degenerates into tyranny. If it be asked, what is to restrain the House of Representatives from making legal discriminations in favor of themselves and a particular class of society? I answer: the genius of the whole system; the nature of just and constitutional laws; and, above all, the vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America — a spirit which nourishes freedom, and in return is nourished by it.”
Madison’s prediction was a little off: Members of Congress wrote Obamacare so that they would not be covered themselves. But they neglected to exempt their staffers. As a result they are hearing first hand from valued employees something of “the vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America,” a majority of whom oppose Obamacare. They ignored the incentive, which Madison correctly identified, to pass only laws which cover them and theirs as well as the great mass of the people.
Footnote: Rep. Diana DeGetter, D-Colo., told the New York Times that the House is not responsible for the offending provision. It was in the bill the Senate passed in December 2009 and not in the bill the House passed in November 2009. But after the American people, speaking through the unlikely medium of the voters of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, who elected Scott Brown to the Senate in January 2010, said, “Please don’t pass this law,” Democrats decided to plunge ahead anyway through the only legislative option open to them — having the House pass the Senate bill, as it did in March 2010. So they have only themselves to blame.