Commentary

The Fight to Halt Congress’s Obamacare Fraud

Tom Fitton | August 13, 2015 | 11:29am EDT
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Congress (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

For all the Republican complaints about Barack Obama’s lawlessness, Americans should know that many Republican members of Congress, especially its leadership, are happy to partner in Obama’s despotic approach to governing. 

You can see this hypocrisy in our lawsuit on behalf of a DC taxpayer challenging the use of local dollars to help Congress obtain Obamacare benefits in violation of Obamacare law itself.  Judicial Watch’s legal team is pursuing an appeal to keep the case going, having just filed the opening appellate brief in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals  The lawsuit, filed on behalf of District taxpayer Kirby Vining, challenges the District of Columbia Health Benefit Exchange’s expenditure of municipal funds on the Small Business Exchange to allow Congress, congressional staffers and their dependents to participate in the Exchange (Kirby Vining v. Executive Board of D.C. Health Benefit Exchange Authority, et al.) A lower court had dismissed the lawsuit on standing grounds.

Just to review, the lawsuit, which names the District of Colombia Health Benefit Exchange Authority and its officials as defendants, was filed on October 15, 2014, on behalf of Mr. Vining in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.  D.C. law limits participation in the Exchange to small businesses employing 50 or fewer full-time employees.  Vining, a District of Columbia resident since 1986, seeks to prevent the Exchange Authority from allowing at least 12,359 members of Congress, congressional staffers, their spouses and dependents to purchase health insurance in D.C.’s Small Business Exchange.

Congressional figures who were keen on breaking the rules just assumed no one would be watching. But JW was. It was our lawsuit that first exposed fraudulent applications filed by the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate with the D.C. Exchange Authority.  The applications, which were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, show that the House and Senate claimed to have only 45 employees each. They also show that the House and Senate attested to having “50 or fewer full-time equivalent employees.”  Congress employs upwards of 20,000 people. The applications also falsely state that the House and Senate are “local/state governments.”  The “electronic signature” section of the application includes the following language:

“I’ve provided true and correct information to all the questions on this form to the best of my knowledge.  I know that if I’m not truthful, there may be a penalty.”

The actual names of the signatories were blacked out by the D.C. Exchange in the documents Judicial Watch obtained.  The lawsuit seeks to prevent at least $77 million in District funds from being used to help Congress violate the restrictions imposed on it by the Obamacare law.  The fraudulent Obamacare applications filed by Congress resulted in an U.S. Senate investigation led by Senator David Vitter (R-LA).  (Separately, Judicial Watch, Citizens Against Government Waste, and eight other public interest groups filed an ethics complaint over this dishonesty with the Senate Ethics Committee.)

On January 7, 2015, the D.C. government admitted that the law does not allow for Congress to obtain benefits on the Exchange, but also argued that the Office of Personnel Management could override the District’s law. The case was dismissed on February 25, 2015, despite the continued fraudulent use of D.C. monies to provide special health benefits to Congress.

In its appeal, Judicial Watch argues that the D.C. Exchange Authority has knowingly allowed Congress to participate in the Small Business Exchange, despite the fact that Congress employs thousands of individuals:

“Since November 2013, the Exchange Authority has allowed the U.S. House of Representatives … and the U.S. Senate … to use the Small Business Exchange to provide health insurance to some (but not all) congressional employees, including members of Congress and these employees' spouses and dependents … At all relevant times, Defendants have known that the House and the Senate were participating in the Small Business Exchange to provide health insurance to some (but not all) congressional employees … As of February 9, 2014, at least 12,359 congressional employees and their dependents had obtained health insurance through the Small Business Exchange. These 12,359 persons represent approximately 86 percent of the 14,289 persons enrolled in the Small Business Exchange between October 1, 2013 and September 9, 2014."

We also argue that in light of the district’s use of municipal funds to pay for the D.C. Small Business Exchange, Kirby Vining, a longtime D.C. resident, has standing to file this lawsuit as a D.C. resident and taxpayer.

What we see in motion here is an abuse of District monies to use D.C. funds to subsidize health insurance for Congress. It seems that it is, at the very least, unethical for District officials to use local dollars to participate in Congress’s Obamacare fraud.  The highest court in the District of Columbia must affirm the right of District taxpayers to protect their monies from being misappropriated by District officials.

Our client Mr. Vining is also concerned, stating, “I am doubly disturbed by what members of Congress and their staff have done here, both because this program was designed to provide benefits for small businesses, businesses that form the spine of our economy and society, but also because Congress has chosen to claim eligibility to participate in this program, claiming to be a ‘small business.’ Congress authored the law, and is going to rather questionable lengths to avoid compliance with the law it drafted.”

It is an abuse of District taxpayers to use D.C. funds to subsidize health insurance for Congress. It would seem, at the very least, unethical for District officials to use local dollars to participate in Congress’s Obamacare fraud.  The highest court in the District of Columbia must affirm the right of District taxpayers to protect their monies from being misappropriated by District officials.

It seems to me a truism that President Obama and his administration’s lawlessness undermines our republican form of government.  But Americans should understand that Republicans in Congress appear to be behaving unethically when they also allow two sets of rules for Obamacare: one of the political class and one for the rest of us.  Our litigation, which could stop District monies from being used for this scam, is a reminder to these politicians that no one is above the law.

Tom Fitton is president of Judicial Watch

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