Obamacare, we just can’t quit you.
That’s how some conservatives seem to feel, even after losing every single battle over the new health care law — officially named the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — and going so far as to shut down the federal government for more than two weeks in an attempt to force President Barack Obama to give up on at least some parts of his signature legislative accomplishment.
Yes, they’re still kicking and screaming over the law that extends health care coverage to Americans who couldn’t previously obtain it.
The latest attempt to take a swipe at the law comes from Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who is pushing not just a simple piece of legislation, but an actual amendment to the United States Constitution that would prohibit Congress from passing any law that did not apply equally to itself as to the rest of the American people.
Ever since the health care law passed in 2010, conservatives have railed against what they said was an “exemption” for members of Congress, who received their health insurance through a federal plan. Paul’s amendment would end that so-called “exemption.”
Of course, the “exemption” was never an exemption at all. The new law requires only that Americans have some kind of health care coverage. Only people who are currently uninsured are required to buy insurance through the online health insurance exchanges created by the law (or through some other means).
No one who currently receives insurance through an employer, private or governmental, would be required to do anything different.
Nonetheless, Congress passed an amendment to the health care law requiring that congressmembers and their often overworked, underpaid staff members must buy insurance through the exchanges. While conservatives say that this makes Obamacare now “apply” to Congress, what it actually does is make the requirements of the law much stricter for Congress than for everyone else.
Paul’s proposed constitutional amendment would take this one step further, making any law passed by Congress apply directly to congressmembers, as well as the president, his administration officials and staff, and the Supreme Court.
But the clumsy wording of the proposed amendment, as Ian Millheiser of ThinkProgress points out, would actually make congressmembers eligible for any federal benefit given to anyone in the United States.
The amendment states, “Congress shall make no law applicable to a citizen of the United States that is not equally applicable to Congress.”
Therefore, when Congress passes a special law that gives, for example, a one-time death benefit to the widow of a deceased congressmember — as it recently did for the wife of late New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg — under Paul’s amendment, every single member of Congress would receive the same amount of money.
Members of Congress would also be eligible to receive the same benefits as military widows and veterans. For that matter, members of the House and Senate could also receive food stamps, Medicare or the special pension paid to Medal of Honor recipients.
In any case, Paul’s amendment is merely a symbolic gesture. To pass a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote of both the House and the Senate, followed by a state-by-state vote in which 38 of the 50 states must approve the new amendment. Given the currently polarized state of the political landscape, the chances of passing any constitutional amendment are basically zero.
Sources: ThinkProgress, Politico, Atlantic Wire