The Blog

The Canary in the Coal Mine (Updated)

Will Congress heed the warning on their Obamacare exemptions?

8:54 AM, Sep 23, 2013 • By HEATHER R. HIGGINS and WILLIAM W. PASCOE III
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Mark Udall of Colorado is also considered safe in his seat but could face several challengers. We tested him against former Rep. Bob Beauprez, the 2006 GOP nominee for Governor. After the messaging, Udall dropped just 2 points in his hard reelect, from 28/72 to 27/73, but he saw his hard vote against increase by 10 points, from 28/72 to 38/62, and he lost 7 points on the ballot, dropping from a 38/40 dead heat to a 35/44 deficit. 

So with a minimal push, the issue makes inroads even in places most analysts thought beyond reach.

The results are the political equivalent of the canary dying in the coal mine; perhaps Congress will finally pay attention and reverse this exemption this week in the Senate or else in the House as part of the continuing resolution negotiation.

Some may think that if they make a feint at undoing the exemption ruling, but watch that fail, that they can then avail themselves of the subsidy. But that is not the case: If members don’t decline the subsidy for themselves and their staffs, the public states that they still see this as preferring themselves and their paid staff over all their unpaid volunteers and constituents, and the price will be nearly as steep. In Mike Simpson's Idaho district, for instance, 55 percent of GOP primary voters said they would vote against Simpson to send a message even if he voted against Obamacare but decided to keep the exemption for himself and his staff; just 7 percent said they would vote for him anyway.

As for the strategists, the message is clear: Get your incumbents on the right side of the issue, or spend election night on the edge of your seat; get your challengers on the right side of the issue, and prepare to win where you didn’t previously think possible.

Heather Higgins is president and CEO of Independent Women's Voice. William W. Pascoe III consults on political strategy with IWV. IWV is the creator of the #NoWashingtonExemption petition.

Update: The office of Mike Simpson, the Idaho Republican, responds:

"Congressman Mike Simpson strongly opposes any effort to give special treatment to Members of Congress or staff," says spokesperson Nikki Watts. "He made this clear when Pres. Obama first mentioned this unfair exemption on Aug 2. He has also cosponsored H.R. 3076, the James Madison Congressional Accountability Act, which blocks a subsidy for the President, Vice President, executive branch, and all of Congress and staff in purchasing health plans. Congressman Simpson also supports H.R. 3071, the No Special Treatment for Congress Act, that would ensure no funds are used to implement the President’s ruling and H.R. 3067, the No Obamacare Subsidies for Members of Congress Act, would prohibit a government subsidy for the purchase of health plans by Members of Congress only."

Watts adds that Simpson would "absolutely support" including the exemption in the CR that defunds Obamacare.

Update II: A statement from Simpson himself, provided to THE WEEKLY STANDARD: “I did not speak at conference last Wednesday," Simpsons says. "I want to be clear that I am opposed to the member and staff exemption and I am a cosponsor of the DeSantis bill that would eliminate the exemption. The statement from unnamed sources regarding my position is simply not true."

UPDATE III: Check out "The Strength of the Anti-Obamacare Exemption Message" for more.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 18 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers