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Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.

Health Care for Obama?


Already, the health care bill which President Obama signed into law today would kick members of Congress out of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, and onto the state-based exchanges which the law will establish.

But Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, doesn't think that's enough. Grassley is promising to offer an amendment to the law, which would require senior administration officials, including cabinet members, and the president himself to enter into the exchanges. He'll offer his amendment as the Senate considers a package of amendments to the law this week.

"It's pretty unbelievable that the President and his closest advisors remain untouched by the reforms they pushed for the rest of the country," Grassley sad in a released statement.

Because of how the process works, Senate Democrats are going to try to avoid making many extensive changes to the reconciliation package, so cabinet members shouldn't worry about ditching FEHBP just yet.

As for whether Obama himself would participate in the exchanges -- in a July 22 health care conference a reporter asked him a similar question, whether he'd be willing to enroll in the public option, the government-run health care program then under consideration. Obama said he'd be "happy" to, but then implied it might be a bit impractical for the leader of the free world.

"I'm the president of the United States, so I've got a doctor following me every minute," Obama told reporters.

Grassley's amendment would also address what has become a growing brouhaha here in D.C.-land -- the fact that only some Congressional staffers might be covered by this new prohibition.

As the Hotline On Call blog notes, the precise wording of the language might only apply to those who work directly for senators and representatives -- not leadership staff or those who work on committees. (In Congress, the difference between staffer for a lawmaker and a staffer for a committee can sometimes be fuzzy.)

An anonymous Democratic aide on the blog blames the loophole on the original amendment, offered by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Tom Coburn, R-Okla. I'll just note that their initial amendment, offered during the Senate Finance Committee markup, included a much broader definition of staffer: "an employee whose pay is disbursed by the Secretary of the Senate or the Clerk of the House of Representatives."

But the version signed into law today only would apply to members of Congress and "full-time and part-time employees employed by the official office of a Member of Congress, whether in Washington, DC or outside of Washington, DC."

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