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Some Reid staffers exempt from Obamacare exchanges

By Chris Frates, CNN Investigative Correspondent
December 4, 2013 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Other congressional leaders have instructed their staffs to enroll
  • In September, Reid said, "We are going to be part of exchanges"
  • Law lets lawmakers decide if committee and leadership staffers keep federal employee insurance

Washington (CNN) -- Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, one of Obamacare's architects and staunchest supporters, is also the only top congressional leader to exempt some of his staff from having to buy insurance through the law's new exchanges.

Reid is the exception among the other top congressional leaders. GOP House Speaker John Boehner, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell have all directed their staffs to join the exchange, their aides said.

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In the charged atmosphere surrounding Obamacare, Reid's decision only gives Republicans more ammo to attack Democrats already suffering politically from the law's botched rollout.

In September, Reid told reporters, "Let's stop these really juvenile political games -- the one dealing with health care for senators and House members and our staff. We are going to be part of exchanges, that's what the law says and we'll be part of that."

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That's true. Reid and his personal staff will buy insurance through the exchange.

But it's also true that the law lets lawmakers decide if their committee and leadership staffers hold on to their federal employee insurance plans, an option Reid has exercised.

Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson emphasized, "We are just following the law."

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But Republicans are already taking aim.

"I'm sure that regular Americans who just lost their insurance will feel comforted to know that Senator Reid's staff gets to keep their government plan," a senior GOP Senate aide said.

Former Reid staffer Jim Manley defended his old boss, arguing that "the only people hypocritical here are Republicans, who made this an issue in the first place."

And all four House and Senate leaders are required to relinquish their federal employee insurance plans next year and are choosing to enroll in the exchanges.

CNN's Lisa Desjardins contributed to this report

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