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Some in GOP Applaud Obama Decision on Congressional Health Care Subsidies

House Republicans still don’t like Obamacare — or Obama, for that matter. But at least some of them conceded Friday the president did the right thing in making sure they and their staff wouldn’t lose their health care subsidies under the law.

“There’s no question it was the right thing to do,” said freshmen Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah. “Not just for me, but for my staff. Heavens, I have staff who don’t make much money. This would be a really big bite for them.”

Another Republican congressman described the White House’s intervention as a “relief,” as one aide in his office made around just $30,000 a year and had a child with many health issues. The member wanted to remain anonymous in sensitivity to his staffer’s privacy.

“I don’t know what she would have done,” he said.

CQ Roll Call broke the news on Thursday night that the Office of Personnel Management will issue a new regulation next week clarifying that the government will continue to help defray the cost of premiums for congressional employees in the new health insurance exchanges, which are set to go into effect later this year under the 2010 health care law.

There had been considerable anxiety that the provision of the law forcing members and staff into the exchanges did not provide for the government to continue subsidizing their insurance — potentially costing each of them thousands of dollars out of pocket a year at a time when paychecks in many House members’ offices have been frozen or cut in the past three and a half years because of budget cuts.

Members of both parties had been privately clamoring for the White House to resolve the situation — and passing a legislative fix would have been a dicey proposition given the partisan dispute over the law.

Supporters of the decision, such as Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., note that the health insurance reimbursement is part of the benefits staffers expect, and many could make more money in the private sector already. And the part of the law that is silent on the issue seems to be an oversight — the original amendment putting lawmakers and aides into the exchanges by Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, explicitly provided for the employer reimbursements to continue for members of Congress and their staffs, but that mention was left out of the version that was enacted.

“They would have been demanding some pay raises and those kind of things to take care of that,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., acknowledged. But he still blasted the decision as one carved out an exception and said the Affordable Care Act should instead be repealed for everyone.

When asked if he would have been able to raise his staffers’ pay to help offset the cost of insurance on the new exchanges, Huelskamp said, “I haven’t thought that far about what we could do. … It would have been an interesting question.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., blasted the forthcoming Office of Personnel Management announcement as another in a series of questionable workarounds to keep an unworkable law from falling apart. Just last month, the Treasury Department announced on its website that it would not enforce the employer mandate for a year.

“What we’ve got now is governance by blog post and press release,” Price said. “By 9 o’clock last night, this leak came out. No paper. Nothing specific. No rule that we’ve seen yet, so we look forward to seeing that rule.”

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.