Some of these staffers may lose their health insurance permanentlyC, as a result on a deal that will end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling only temporarily. (Image Source: Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS)
Today, on the 16th day of the federal government's shutdown, the United States Senate presented a deal that Speaker of the House John Boehner will bring to the floor and put to a vote, one which will likely both end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling for the time being. The details remain a little on the murky side, but one key provision that has been offered by the Senate is the so-called Vitter Amendment, named after Nevada Senator David Vitter. It essentially states that everyone in Congress and the White House, including the President, will be forced on the health insurance exchanges enacted by the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Among those included in this amendment are poorly-paid Congressional staffers. Now, they are lashing out against their bosses.
Being a Congressional staffer is tough and terrible work, doing all the drudgery and tedious work. Because of the standards that members of Congress, including Senators, demand of fresh staffers, most of those joining Congressional staff are magna cum laude graduates from top universities, most of whom could easily get jobs earning at least $45,000 a year with benefits to start their careers, and live like kings. However, they enter the public sector earning about $20,000 per year, and their wages do not change all that much, maybe peaking out at $30,000 per year.
That may not necessarily be bad for some people, but keep in mind that these are living in the Washington, DC area. Due to the mass influx of government money being handed out to private contractors in various fields over the last decade, Washington DC has become akin to San Francisco as a place where only the rich are able to live, and the poor are being pushed out. It is nearly impossible to live in DC, let alone some Maryland suburbs outside DC, on a $25,000 per year salary, and living in the Virginia suburbs is very difficult. Having health insurance as one of the job benefits, one that has been in place for years, was one of the few things Congressional staffers could be grateful for.
Now, that simple benefit that people desire when they get a job is being taken away from them, mostly as a bargaining chip to placate rebels amongst House Republicans who wish to prove that the Affordable Care Act was and is a mistake. More damning was an offer by the Senate for a "Vitter-lite" amendment, which exempted congressional staffers, that was utterly rejected by House Republicans. Furthermore, unlike the fact that the bill will only placate the debt ceiling and government shutdown problem temporarily, this move would likely be permanent. Various emails from staffers in both parties shows the rage against their bosses, with many saying they would leave working for Congress for good on this amendment alone.
Many speculate that now the Vitter Amendment has been placed off the table, perhaps as a result of an internal revolt by staffers. Supporters of the Republican rebels have been unsurprisingly livid at the move. But given how Congress is not only paid six figures each, but is guaranteed pay even during the government shutdown, what we are seeing is that Congressional staffers are unhappy at being used as pawns to placate the desires of a certain few Congressmen.