Senate Republicans opposed to a public health-insurance option intend to introduce an amendment Monday that would require not just members of Congress to enroll in any such plan -- but also the president, vice president, cabinet officials and all political staff.
An earlier, narrower version of the amendment just covering Congress, proposed by Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and David Vitter (R-La.), led to a Capitol spectacle on Friday as some Democrats called their bluff.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) tried to join their effort, but told the Hill that he was rebuffed. A Coburn spokesman said Brown would have been welcome to join and that the office had simply yet to get back to him.
Regardless, Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Brown all went to the Senate floor to ask unanimous consent to be added to the amendment, a request that was approved.
Franken said on the Senate floor that he had discussed the situation with his wife Frannie and they had agreed to go on the public option if the bill became law. (If the amendment doesn't become law, Franken wouldn't legally be able to make that choice since he has employer-provided coverage.)
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid derided the new measure as "feel good amendment that typifies the Republican Party's utter lack of ideas when it comes to health care reform."
Coburn and Vitter will be joined in this more expansive amendment by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.). A Coburn spokesman said that Democrats were encouraged to join the GOP on this amendment.
Coburn, a medical doctor, said that his amendment isn't a gimmick, but rather a serious attempt to mitigate the harms he believes would come about through the existence of a public option. If the president and other political heavyweights are enrolled in it, his thinking goes, they'll make sure it runs well.
"While I oppose the public option, Republicans and Democrats can agree that we should live under the laws we pass. I can also think of no better way to ensure that the public option is responsive to our citizens than by having the politicians in charge of the system enrolled in the same program. If a low-income, single mom has to wait in line for a life saving treatment, so should our national leaders and their families. Enrolling national leaders in the public option may be the best way to prevent the government from rationing care," Coburn said in a statement provided to HuffPost.
Grassley said the amendment is an effort to close a loophole that he charged Democratic leadership with putting in, that exempted themselves, their staff and others. The Congressional Research Service analyzed the current bill and determined that it did create a carve-out for leadership and staff, according to Grassley. (The origin of the loophole is complicated: Coburn's health committee amendment contained sloppy language that accidentally exempted leadership and committee staff; Grassley's amendment in the finance committee did not; the merged bill that Reid sent to the floor includes Coburn's language that continues the carve out. The new amendment does not.)
"The White House and cabinet secretaries are working very hard for this massive overhaul of America's health care system," Grassley said in a statement to HuffPost. "It's only fair that if this bill becomes law, these individuals should themselves be subject to the reforms. The same is true for congressional staff. Quietly carving out leadership staff and committee staff behind closed doors is unacceptable. If the reforms are as good as their supporters say, the reforms should be good enough for everybody."
Read the five page amendment here.