Senator threatens to hold up OPM director’s nomination

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is threatening to stall the nomination of acting Office of Personnel Management Director Beth Cobert over a special exemption given to members of Congress and their staff in the Affordable Care Act.

“To date, information I have received from your predecessor has not been responsive to the questions I have posed,” he wrote in a Feb. 2  letter addressed to Cobert. “In order for your nomination to move forward, please answer the following questions and provide the information requested.”

His letter comes two days before Cobert is set to appear before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for her nomination hearing to be OPM’s permanent director.

Vitter is not a member of the Senate committee that will consider Cobert’s nomination. But his staff sent his letter to the committee’s chairman, Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who is expected to include his requests as questions for the record during Thursday’s hearing, a spokesman for Vitter told Federal News Radio.

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Vitter is taking issue with a final rule OPM issued in October 2013, well before Cobert assumed her role as the agency’s acting director last July.

The rule, which amends a section of the Affordable Care Act, lets members of Congress and their staff buy health insurance on the Small Business Health Options Plan (SHOP) exchange.

“It had been widely reported that OPM was in deliberations with Congress and officials in the White House, including the President, over the specifics of this rule,” Vitter wrote. “Since that time additional information has come to light indicating that false information was provided to the District of Columbia Health Benefits Exchange, now named DC Health Link. According to the application DC Health Link approved, Congress was represented as a small business in order to qualify for the purchase of health insurance on the SHOP exchange.”

According to Vitter, OPM used the claim that the House of Representatives and Senate employed 45 people, meaning both could qualify for small business coverage under the ACA.

But Congress has more than 16,000 employees, Vitter said in his letter.

Soon after OPM issued the final rule in 2013, Vitter asked that the agency to provide his office with all correspondence it had with members in the administration and Congress about its decision.

Vitter said he hasn’t yet received that information.

His Feb. 2 letter poses five questions for Cobert, which mostly ask that she disclose any correspondence among OPM leaders, Congress and the White House that discuss the decision-making process behind the rule.

“Should you or anyone within the Executive Office of the President wish to see the nomination move forward, I will be happy to oblige and help facilitate upon a complete and full response to the requested information, now pending for over two years,” Vitter wrote.

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