Five Senate Republicans voted with Democrats Thursday to reject Sen. David Vitter’s attempt to subpoena the D.C. health exchange, dealing a blow to his one-man probe into why Congress is allowed to use the city’s small-business health program although it employs thousands.
Mr. Vitter, Louisiana Republican and chairman the Senate Small Business Committee, wanted to force exchange officials to identify the congressional staff who signed forms defining the House and Senate as small employers.
City officials say they’re bound by privacy laws to black out the names of anyone who applies to use the small-business exchange, or “SHOP,” which lawmakers and staff must use in order to keep subsidies that cover up to 75 percent of their premiums.
The committee voted 19-5 to reject Mr. Vitter’s subpoena request, with several of his GOP colleagues saying the panel should be focused on other matters, and that they wouldn’t learn much from extracting the unredacted documents.
Mr. Vitter accused his fellow senators of struggling to protect a sweetheart health deal for themselves.
“The message is clear: Congress should be able to lie so that members can get a special Obamacare subsidy unavailable to anyone else at that income level,” said Mr. Vitter, who is running for governor back home.
He has been trying for more than a year to force Congress to live under stricter Obamacare rules, saying they should follow the letter of the law they wrote for other Americans.
The Affordable Care Act required members of Congress and their official staffers to buy insurance on the exchanges, but the Obama administration’s Office of Personnel Management decided that if they used the D.C. small-business exchange, they could still get their employer subsidies to cover premiums.
Regular Americans who buy plans through the exchange are restricted from having employers contribute to their premiums.
Others said the probe wasn’t the committee’s responsibility, and that the exchange probably wouldn’t comply.
“I joined this committee because I wanted to do things for small business,” said Sen. James Risch, Idaho Republican, saying Mr. Vitter’s request would “take our eye off the ball.”
Both men voted against the maneuver, joined by Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Rand Paul of Kentucky, who is running for president and said Congress should instead pass a constitutional amendment to ensure that lawmakers do not exempt themselves from any law it passes.
A top committee aide said every senator except Mr. Paul had been on board with the subpoena at one point, and that GOP defectors were complicit in “fraud” for not digging into Congress‘ small-employer status.
Another Republican candidate for the 2016 nomination, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, backed Mr. Vitter, as did Republican Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Tim Scott of South Carolina.
D.C.’s small business exchange applauded the subpoena’s demise.
“We appreciate the bipartisan action of the [committee] and look forward to continuing to serve all our customers — Congress, small businesses, and residents of the District,” D.C. Health Link Executive Director Mila Kofman said.
Lawmakers have taken different approaches to Obamacare’s requirements. Some routed their coverage through their home states to shun the subsidy that constituents cannot get, while others hold insurance from sources unrelated to their jobs.
Among committee members reached by The Washington Times, Mr. Gardner said he used the Colorado exchange, while Ms. Ernst holds veterans’ coverage known as Tricare.
Ms. Fischer and Ms. Ayotte both said they voted “no” because the subpoena did not match the committee’s core mission. They use the D.C. exchange and receive the federal-employer match against their premiums.
“[Ms. Ayotte] has voted numerous times to repeal Obamacare for everyone, and she believes the clearest way to stop the employer health insurance contribution is through legislation,” spokeswoman Liz Johnson said.
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