WASHINGTON – Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, has been pushing for months now to take away what he calls the “special treatment” that members of Congress and their staffs enjoy under “Obamacare” – but now he’s enjoying that special treatment himself.
The Washington Post has been canvassing the House and the Senate to ask what lawmakers are doing about their own health care under the Affordable Care Act. And Talking Points Memo, a liberal blog, reported that 24 of those lawmakers – including Reed – said they are taking the federal contribution to their health care costs that they said Congress should eliminate.
To Martha Robertson, the Democrat who is challenging Reed for re-election in the Southern Tier’s 23rd congressional district, it all smacks of hypocrisy.
“I think it’s pretty stunning,” said Robertson, chairwoman of the Tompkins County Legislature. “He proposed his own bill to end this ‘special treatment,’ on the so-called high principles that it was a matter of fundamental fairness. … And then when nobody’s looking, he takes the benefit.”
Predictably, the Reed camp doesn’t see it that way.
“Obamacare is the law,” said Katherine Pudwill, Reed’s campaign spokeswoman. “We would like nothing more than for this law to go away, but Tom Reed is complying with it as written. What is truly ironic is that Martha Robertson is criticizing Tom for living under the very law she supports when he has worked tirelessly to repeal it.”
Reed has indeed done that, yet he’s also made a special issue out of the employer contribution that members of Congress and their staffs get to help pay for their health care.
That contribution is similar to what most major companies give to their employees for the same purpose, but that’s not the way Reed has seen it.
“To me, getting rid of special treatment for Congress is a no-brainer,” Reed said in October. “My bill keeps the government open and puts Congress on a level playing field with every other American. We need to clean up this obvious inequality. It is the right thing to do, it is the fair thing to do.”
Reed aimed to end the October government shutdown by proposing legislation that would end that “special treatment,” which would have left lawmakers and their staffs scrambling to pay for their own health insurance. The proposal – which was deeply unpopular among low-paid congressional staffers – went nowhere.
But Robertson says that if Reed really believes the government shouldn’t pay for health care for members of Congress and their staffs, then he shouldn’t take the federal contribution that he’s owed for his insurance.
“My mom told me you practice what you preach,” she said.
Reed is by no means alone in accepting the federal contribution to pay for health care.
Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand, New York Democrats who support the health reform law, are both taking the federal contribution and buying insurance on the D.C. exchange.
Meanwhile, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, will continue to get health insurance through his wife’s employer, the Buffalo School District. And Rep. Chris Collins, a Clarence Republican and vehement opponent of Obamacare, will get his through ZeptoMetrix, a Collins company that’s been in the control of his wife since he entered Congress.
Despite taking the federal contribution to buy health care on the D.C. exchange, Reed has remained a steadfast critic of the law – and of Robertson’s advocacy years ago of a single-payer health system run by the federal government.
“If Martha Robertson had her way, she would take Obamacare even further and require everyone to buy their health care from the federal government,” Pudwill noted.