Senator makes good on threat to block OPM acting director’s nomination

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is acting on his threat to block the nomination of Beth Cobert to lead the Office of Personnel Management.

Vitter said in a Feb. 25 press release that Cobert still has not responded to letters sent earlier this month regarding a special exemption under the Affordable Care Act that lets Congress purchase health care from the DC Healthlink small business exchange.

“As much as federal bureaucrats enjoy hiding behind layers of red tape, we have now reached the point where OPM can no longer avoid explaining how Congress was allowed to purchase health insurance as a small business — when it clearly is not,” Vitter said in the release. “Ms. Cobert’s nomination will not move forward in any capacity until the American people have received answers as to why Washington’s Obamacare exemption exists.”

Vitter said OPM used the claim in 2013 — before Cobert became acting director — that the House of Representatives and Senate employed 45 people, meaning both could qualify for small business coverage under the ACA. This qualifies members and their staffs for employer subsidies to help pay premiums. But Congress has more than 16,000 employees, Vitter said in his first letter.

Vitter sent a follow-up letter to Cobert on Feb. 24, asking the question: Does OPM consider Congress a large employer or a small business? Vitter also repeated the questions from his original letter, which primarily concerns OPM’s correspondence surrounding the original decision to classify Congress as a small business.

Vitter also requested clarification from John Koskinen, commissioner of the IRS, via a letter sent on Feb. 10 about the status of Congress as a small or large business. The IRS considers Congress a large employer for tax purposes.

“Congress can’t have it both ways — it cannot be both a small employer and a large employer,” Vitter said in another press release.

Leaders of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform were quick to register opposition to Vitter’s hold. Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the committee, expressed support for Cobert’s nomination.

“I find her to be a very competent person who is a breath of fresh air who actually has the background to run this agency,” Chaffetz said during a Feb. 25 hearing. “I want to be one that’s counted as supporting her nomination, and I think that the country will be better off — the government will be better off — confirming her presence and allowing her to be the director fully confirmed as soon as possible.”

President Barack Obama nominated Cobert on Nov. 10. She has been acting director of OPM since July when former Director Katherine Archuleta resigned after a massive data breach at OPM.

Most recently, the OPM inspector general questioned in a memo whether Cobert could continue acting as director while her nomination is pending, due to a provision in the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.

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