Jonathan Bachman/AP

GOP Blocks Vitter's Obamacare Subpoena

Five senators oppose Vitter's effort, and he accuses them of wanting to "protect congressional perks."

Sen. David Vitter was stymied Thursday in his latest effort to get answers on how members of Congress and staff get their health insurance through Obamacare. And it wasn't just Democrats who blocked him—it was his fellow Republicans

Vitter has fiercely opposed Congress members and staffers receiving their health insurance through Washington's small-business exchange, which grants them an employer contribution to their health care. Vitter wants the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, which he chairs, to subpoena documents from the D.C. Health Benefit Exchange Authority, which oversees the District's health marketplace.

But for five committee Republicans, Vitter's plan to subpoena simply goes too far.

Thursday's vote failed 5-to-14, with Republican Sens. James Risch, Rand Paul, Deb Fischer, Kelly Ayotte, and Mike Enzi opposing the measure. Their opposition clearly frustrated the chairman; a press release from Vitter, after the tally, was headlined: "Committee Vote to Impede Investigation Disappointing, Typical of Insider Mentality to Protect Congressional Perks."

Vitter needed all 10 of the Republicans on the panel to side with him in order to issue the subpoena, which specifically asks for nine unredacted pages of applications that the Senate and the House submitted to the D.C. Health Benefit Exchange Authority to allow members and staff to receive health insurance through the small-business marketplace.

"This isn't the jurisdiction of this committee," Risch said. He's worried the subpoena could detract from the main job of the committee—to help small businesses—and that it could turn into a protracted legal fight.

Enzi cited fear of what would happen to his employees' health insurance if coverage were to shift. "I think there needs to be a solution," he said, adding that the way he sees it, his office is a small business.

"Each of us has our own budget," he said. "Each of us has our own staff."

But Vitter countered his fellow Republicans, saying the committee's goal is to be an advocate for small businesses—and he's sure a subpoena would work.

"Based on our communications, I'm completely confident that if we issue the subpoena, we will get from them the nine pages unredacted, which is the goal," said Vitter, who has launched an investigation into why Congress was designated as a small business.

According to a senior GOP committee aide, each Republican, with the exception of Paul, initially supported the subpoena effort, but the aide wrote in an email that four of them flipped.

Yet, Republicans have voted with Vitter in the past—and then decided they might not play by the rules. In December, Senate Republicans unanimously passed a nonbinding party rule by voice vote that required all office, leadership, and committee staff to receive their health insurance on Washington's small-business exchange rather than through the federal program. Most committee chairs were already doing so, but a few have not committed to making the switch.