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Wanted: Fierce Advocate. Serious Inquiries Only.

Photo by qnr

Photo by qnr

In the midst of all the outrage against the Senate health care monstrosity spectacular once-in-a-lifetime triumph, we should remember that women are not the only demographic getting thrown under the bus (then again, to say that gays have been “thrown under the bus” would imply that they weren’t already living there to begin with):

Under existing law, health benefits that employers provide to the opposite-sex spouses of employees are exempt from federal income tax. But identical benefits provided to employees’ same-sex spouses or partners are taxed as income. Receiving the benefits increases a gay or lesbian worker’s taxable income by thousands of dollars a year in what amounts to a “gay tax” on health insurance benefits.

The version of health care legislation approved by the House of Representatives would eliminate this “gay tax.”….

The version of health care legislation formulated by Reid and endorsed by all 60 Senate Democrats, in contrast, contains no provision to eliminate the “gay tax.” If this version passes the Senate as is, the fate of the “gay tax” would depend on closed-door negotiations between the House and Senate–and the Obama Administration–in conference committee.

This is incredibly mean-spirited and unfair, but I can easily envision it slipping through into the final bill because no one in Congress is paying attention to it.  But if Obama is the “fierce advocate” that he claims to be, then he should insist on the House version.  If Obama and Congress insist on passing a godawful and politically suicidal bill, they should at least correct this indefensible inequity in our tax code.

Of course, the fix would only apply to gay employees who can get spousal benefits in the first place…

The Obama administration refused Friday to follow a federal judge’s order to provide insurance benefits to the wife of a lesbian court employee in San Francisco and said its hands were tied by a discriminatory law.

Basically, OPM is claiming that Judge Kozinski ‘s order is meaningless because he made it in an administrative capacity rather than a judicial one, and they simply can’t comply because of the terrible awful DOMA that Obama is in no hurry to repeal, even though Kozinski argued that the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) trumps it.  Apparently Obama’s OPM would rather look for excuses to ignore the judge’s ruling than take on DOMA in any way.  Indeed, their lawyer even had the nerve to say that “[t]his issue shows exactly why Congress needs to repeal DOMA.”

But I’m sure their boss didn’t know about any of this.  After all, a fierce advocate like Obama would never stand for such shabby treatment of his gay friends.  I mean, look how he pushed for domestic-partner benefits for all federal employees which is so totally close to passing:

Lieberman and Collins said they were happy to see the bill move forward, but they would not seek time on the Senate calendar for debate until OPM explained how it planned to pay for the benefits it would begin providing to the domestic partners of gay and lesbian federal employees.

(…)

“We will not move it on the floor of the Senate until we get that explicit offset so this is a deficit-neutral step,” [Lieberman] said.

And how much is this staggering sum that must be balanced out for the bill to proceed?  63 MILLION dollars!  Yes, that’s Million with an M.  Which makes the annual cost roughly $10 million less than the going rate for a sociopathic health insurance CEO’s golden parachute, or about half a day’s worth of military operations in Afghanistan, pre-Surge.

I’m sure Obama could find that kind of money between the cushions of the Pentagon’s couches, but if he’s not willing to cut his Afghanistan budget by 0.1%, maybe he could just strip out the $250 million for abstinence education that Harry Reid let Orrin Hatch sneak into the Senate health care bill in exchange for, well, nothing.  (Because the only thing better than a bill that makes abortions unaffordable is a bill that makes abortions unaffordable and increases the number of unwanted and underage pregnancies!)

Okay, the last item is maybe a little nitpicky and should be cleared up as soon as the LGBT community’s good friends at OPM come back with a plan to scrounge up $63 million in savings, but it’s more than a little bit ridiculous that Obama’s most significant pro-gay initiative is getting held up by transparent posturing over what amounts to a rounding error.

Obama’s support for gay rights so far has looked a lot like his support for the public option.

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