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Beware what emerges from your inbox

Posted: August 17, 2013 - 11:08pm  |  Updated: August 18, 2013 - 7:30am

I can’t resist a good lie.

They get delivered to my inbox everyday. Usually, they come in the form of an email forwarded from a friend or relative and almost always the content makes claims that reinforce the things we think we already know or thought were true.

I’ve seen photos of President George W. Bush in an elementary school reading from a book held upside down and one with President Obama saying the Pledge of Allegiance with his left hand over his heart. Both are bogus, as is about 90 percent of the other stuff that gets passed around the internet.

Whenever I get this stuff, I feel obligated to reply to the sender and explain that what they just sent was a bunch of bunk, and ask them nicely to refrain from sending any more.

Which brings me to Karen Handel.

Although the election to replace retiring U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss is more than a year away, the race has already revved up.

Handel, the former Georgia Secretary of State, is among a flock of eager Republicans hoping to take his place in Washington.

Handel is already lobbing bombs at the field of opponents hoping to clear a path to victory. The latest landed this week in my email, decrying Congress’ alleged “Obamacare exemption.”

Here’s a snippet: “Only in Washington could Congress seek and secure a special exception to prevent their health care costs from rising while premiums for thousands of Georgians will go up by as much as 198% next year. This is just another example of the hypocrisy in Washington.”

It sure sounds like something we would expect from Congress. The problem is that it’s just not true.

Handel’s motivation seems to be to smear her Republican opponents who happen to be members of Congress – U.S. Reps. Jack Kingston, Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey, by implying that they are pulling a fast one.

The problem with her claim is that Congress is anything but exempt. In fact, they are among a small group of federal employees that will be affected more than others.

You see, back when the massive and bewilderingly complex “Affordable Healthcare Act” was being assembled at the sausage factory in Washington, D.C., last-minute amendments and political gamesmanship abounded.

One such amendment came from Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, who proposed that Congress and its staff be required to take part in the same health exchange plans that will be made available for those who don’t have health insurance through their employers, essentially kicking them out of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan that all federal workers take part in.

Some say that Grassley’s amendment was an attempt to embarrass the Democrats and he didn’t expect it to pass.

The Democrats, however, embraced the idea and it became part of the new law.

This created a special situation for a large number of federal employees.

It also left a lot of questions about who exactly was affected – lots of people work for Congress, but some don’t work directly for Senators and representatives – and what would happen to the money paid by the federal government to subsidize their insurance premiums.

Those subsidies amount to about $5,000 per year for single employees and about twice that much for family coverage. That might not seem like much to those in Congress, but it certainly matters to low-level clerks working for congressional committees or someone who works in the Senate library.

Grassley later proposed another amendment, which would allow those affected to continue getting their federal subsidy, but it did not pass.

That’s brings us to the current year, when all those things left undecided in 2009 had to be ironed out.

It appears that what got decided was very similar to Grassley’s amendment – Congress will have to participate in the insurance exchanges, and members and others affected by the law will continue to get their federal subsidies.

So, Handel’s email blast is at best a half-truth, meant to be misunderstood by those who don’t have the time or inclination to do the research. The intent is not to enlighten or inform, but to obfuscate and muddy the political water.

Sure, it’s just politics and everybody does it. We are sure to see more in the coming year.

But wouldn’t it be refreshing if Handel and other candidates focused on the things that are truly wrong with Obamacare and how we might fix our healthcare system? The politics of making your opponent look bad is what got us to where we are now – a government that can’t seem to get anything done.

There are plenty of actual problems that need our attention. We don’t need to invent more.

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