Members of Congress should consider themselves warned: Voters are fed up with our broken healthcare system (also known as Obamacare) and with Washington elites' support of a system that they avoid for themselves.
According to the RealClearPolitics polling average, 49 percent of Americans continue to oppose Obamacare, while only 37 percent have a favorable view of the law. This isn't surprising given that since Obamacare's inception six years ago, Americans have witnessed its many failures, including, but certainly not limited to, higher premium costs, dysfunctional websites, millions of cancelled insurance plans, co-op collapses and lost doctors.
The Republican Party repeatedly cites the aforementioned problems as reasons to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a better system, yet members help enable the law's survival by allowing one of the law's key provisions to persist: The congressional exemption from Obamacare. Not only is this exemption integral to preserving the law because it shields officeholders and their staffs from increased costs and reduced quality of care that the rest of us have endured, it fuels the perceived sense of entitlement enjoyed by those within the Washington establishment bubble.
If the current electoral landscape has shown us anything, it's that voters have had enough of a political class that lives above the law. Voters know that the Republican-controlled Congress has failed to act on this injustice. Republicans can demonstrate their commitment to true equality under the law by condemning the special exemption and demanding that action be taken.
After all, the Affordable Care Act explicitly stated that Congress and their staffs were supposed to be a part of the Obamacare exchanges. But when members and staffers realized they would lose many of the generous health benefits they enjoyed under the federal employee benefit program — and would face increased costs and reduced quality as a result — the Office of Personnel Management intervened to save their benefits.
Instead of requiring members and their staffers to enroll in the individual exchanges (where they would foot the bill for their own coverage), OPM declared Congress "a small business," which allows them to enroll in DC's small business exchange. Laughably, the definition of "small business" is having fewer than 50 employees, which clearly does not apply to Congress, where 435 representatives, 100 senators and thousands of staffers work. As a result of this maneuver, members and their staffs get a special subsidy to help cover most of their costs when purchasing an Obamacare plan, a much better bargain than most Main Street Americans receive under Obamacare. In fact, no other institution enjoys such an exemption.
It's simple: Remove this exemption, and members and their staffs would have a personal interest in repealing and replacing the law.
Furthermore, the exemption is unfair and exemplifies the elitism that has voters disgusted. Congress should have to live under the law they imposed on everyone else, and unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of Americans strongly disapprove of this special privilege. Washington incumbents would be wise to do everything in their power to avoid being caught on the wrong side of this issue.
Republicans should particularly take note. Recent GOP presidential primary contests demonstrate just how frustrated their voters are with the status quo and with Republicans who seem too cozy enjoying Washington's perks. According to entrance and exit polls, angry voters have accounted for about 42 percent of GOP voters. Specifically, in the Nevada Caucus — a state won by Donald Trump — an ABC News entrance poll found that 60 percent of caucus-goers said they were angry with the federal government. Mr. Trump won about half of these dissatisfied voters.
By working to rescind the special exemption from Obamacare, Republicans can show that they truly reject the idea of a ruling class in Washington and believe Congress should live under the systems that they create. A nationwide survey conducted by the polling company inc./WomanTrend on behalf of Independent Women's Voice found that 71 percent of Americans agree that Congress should live under Obamacare like the rest of the public.
In an age of deep partisan divides, this sentiment enjoyed broad support: Self-identified Democrats (68 percent) oppose the special exemption, as do Republicans (77 percent), independents (72 percent), women (70 percent), African Americans (63 percent), Hispanics (68 percent), liberals (62 percent) and conservatives (80 percent). Moreover, this issue can impact how one votes: The survey also found that 58 percent of voters are more likely to vote for a candidate committed to ending the congressional exemption from Obamacare.
Republicans should end the special exemption as a first step to repealing Obamacare in its entirety and in the name of fairness and equality under the law. And if that isn't reason enough for members to act, perhaps the thought of losing their jobs is.
Heather Madden is the Advocacy Projects Manager for Independent Women's Voice.