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Run Silent, Run Scared

Most agree Congress should not be exempt from Obamacare.

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What do voters believe should be done? Seventy-five percent want Congress to reverse the order and mandate that the White House, members of Congress, and the rest of the Federal Government get their insurance through the exchanges without special subsidies, just like the rest of the country – in other words, an “Equal Treatment Act.” And this transcends ideology: liberals (69 percent), moderates (72 percent), and conservatives (83 percent) all preferred this immediate action. Another 14 percent simply wanted the order reversed, leaving only low single digits content with keeping the order as is, or allowing individual members of Congress to opt their offices out of the subsidy.

Sixty-nine percent of voters said they would replace, rather than re-elect their representative if they voted for Obamacare (e.g. most Democrats) and accepted the exemption.

The intensity in the vote to replace is predominately on the right and among those who already disapprove of Obamacare – 83 percent of conservatives, 78 percent of Republicans, and 83 percent of those who disapprove of Obamacare would vote to replace. Nonetheless, 55 percent of liberals, 54 percent of Democrats, and 52 percent of those who approve of Obamacare also prefer to replace a Democrat who took this special subsidy.

When we asked whether a voter would vote against his member of Congress or senator if they voted against Obamacare (e.g., a Republican) but accepted the exemption, the overall number remains statistically the same (70 percent), regardless of party ID or attitude toward Obamacare.

Members facing reelection next year should be on notice. Congress may have called a truce on this issue, but voters haven’t. When educated about the exemption, voters strongly disapprove and are ready to punish those who are complicit with it. This is not about Obamacare or ideology: It is about fundamental fairness, a value that transcends ideology.

What should members of Congress do? First, members need to remember that they are there to serve, and if they want Obamacare delayed for themselves, they need to delay it for the rest of America too.

Step one, therefore, is to offer, in the upcoming short term continuing resolution (CR), a rejection of the OPM ruling, which will be almost impossible for Democrats to vote against. (If they do vote against it, Republicans will have differentiated themselves, enhanced their brand, and created an extraordinary issue for 2014.)

If Democrats yield to public pressure and agree to undo Congress’s special exemption in the upcoming CR, then Republicans will have exceptional leverage they do not currently possess to achieve delay on Obamacare – because that will be the only way Democratic members and staff can keep their existing health insurance plans. And that’s an incentive that will make getting out of town for Christmas – the usual point of leverage for hard to pass legislation -- seem like chump change.

In short, this is an issue with almost unprecedented intensity. Republicans have the choice of leading the parade or getting run over by it. To bypass such a win/win will be viewed by their constituents as political malpractice. And that’s not a position any politician should want to put himself or herself in.

Heather Higgins is president and CEO of Independent Women’s Voice. William W. Pascoe III consults on political strategy with IWV.

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