WASHINGTON, D.C. — The House voted last week to suspend a new tax penalty facing Americans who do not purchase health insurance required under the Affordable Care Act.
Under the “individual mandate,” taxpayers who don’t have required health insurance in 2014 face a penalty of $95 or 1 percent of income, whichever is higher.
Republican who supported lifting the penalty for this year argued that it is unfair to burden individuals when businesses have been granted a delay.
“The Obama administration unilaterally exempted businesses from the employer mandate tax for 2014. Simple fairness demands that Congress provide the same relief to hardworking Americans,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman David Camp, R-Mich.
Democrats who opposed the measure argued that it was, by their count, the 50th time that Republicans had brought to the floor legislation aimed at defaming President Obama’s signature health reform law.
“Instead of constructive action, essentially, we have a Republican demolition squad,” said Congressman Sandy Levin, D-Mich., the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.
The bill was approved, 250-160, with one Republican in opposition and 27 Democrats in support. The Senate has no plans to consider the bill and President Obama has threatened a veto.
Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., voted for it. Congressman Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., opposed it.
The House voted 306-91 to restrain premium hikes to no more than 18 percent each year under the National Flood Insurance Program.
Proponents — particularly those from New York districts slammed by Superstorm Sandy - argued the restraint was needed to keep flood insurance affordable for many homeowners.
“They never had any flood damage in the 50, 60 years prior to this — but their homes are devastated. To add to that the incredible increase they will get to premiums for flood insurance would be even the ultimate devastation,” said Congressman Peter King, R-N.Y.
Opponents argued that the bill would undo recently enacted reforms to eliminate taxpayer subsidies for flood insurance and establish actuarially sound rates.
“The program forces roughly 96 percent of all Americans to subsidize the remaining 4 percent, regardless of income or need,” said Congressman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas. “That means a single mom in Dallas … may be forced to subsidize the flood insurance for some millionaire’s beachfront vacation home.”
Herrera Beutler and Kilmer voted for it.
MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT
An effort to remove military commanders from the prosecution of sexual assault cases was blocked in the Senate.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., proposed having military lawyers rather than commanders decide when to prosecute claims of sexual assault.
She and other proponents argued that the change is needed to assure victims that their complaints would be taken seriously and they would face no recriminations.
“We need to encourage more reporting, and that’s what Sen. Gillibrand’s bill will accomplish,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
Opponents argued that significant reforms were adopted last year and that the latest proposal is unworkable and unneeded. Alleged sexual assault victims are now assigned an independent lawyer and commanders cannot overturn jury decisions on major offenses.
The Senate fell short of the 60-vote majority needed to move ahead with the bill. The vote was 55-45.
Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., voted for Gillibrand’s bill.
CIVIL RIGHTS APPOINTEE
The Senate rejected President Obama’s choice to oversee the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division over concerns about his role in defending a convicted cop killer, Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Only 47 senators supported Debo Adegbile to oversee the division while 52 senators voted to block his confirmation.
Abegbile served as director of litigation for the NAACP when the organization took on the defense of Abu-Jamal in 2009. He had been convicted and sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said the NAACP legal team was motivated to join the defense premised on the notion that the notorious cop killer “was a victim” of police abuse and racial discrimination.
“This is not John Adams defending the British soldiers after the Boston Massacre. That is not what is happening,” Grassley said. “This was a cause in search of a legal justification.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said that Adegbile’s role in defending Abu-Jamal was being distorted – and in any case should not matter.
“Whether it is John Adams or John Roberts, the principle that all sides deserve an effective counsel is at the bedrock of our constitutional system,” he said. “We cannot equate the lawyer with the conduct of those we represent if we want our justice system to endure.”
Cantwell and Murray voted for Adegbile.