For the past week, Sen. David Vitter has antagonized Democrats by insisting on a vote that would strip lawmakers of a valuable health care subsidy they have enjoyed for years.
But now, Senate Democrats are showing Vitter two can play at this game, hitting the Louisiana Republican, who was once embroiled in a prostitution scandal, where it hurts.
Here's how it all started:
In August, the federal government announced that it would continue to contribute to the health care coverage of members of Congress and their staff. Had the government not stepped in, the health care premiums of lawmakers and their aides would have jumped by thousands of dollars each year.
When the Senate returned from recess this week, Vitter introduced an amendment that would repeal the regulation, and he has taken to the Senate floor to press for a vote on his proposal.
So, Senate Democrats decided to counter Vitter's idea by floating one of their own: legislation that would deny these government contributions to lawmakers' health care coverage if there is "probable cause" that they solicited prostitutes. While that may seem like a strange group of senators to punish, it may be a direct jab at Vitter, who was involved in a prostitution scandal in 2007.
Vitter's number appeared in the phone records of the D.C. Madam, who ran a high-end Washington, D.C., escort service. While it was never proven that Vitter solicited a prostitute, he apologized for what he called a "very serious sin."
Democrats are also reportedly considering a plan that would deny the federal contribution to anyone who voted in favor of Vitter's amendment.
Not surprisingly, Vitter is less than thrilled with the Democrats' attempt to dredge up the scandal, arguing that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-N.V., and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., are guilty of "bribery" by tying lawmaker's access to money for their health care coverage to their acts or votes in the Senate.
"I respectfully request that the Senate Select Committee on Ethics investigate whether Sen. Harry Reid, Sen. Barbara Boxer, and their respective staffs violated the committee's rules by proposing and circulating through the press legislation that ties members' personal health care benefits to their performance of specific acts and votes. This is attempted bribery, and the exact sort of behavior that the Senate Ethics Committee has previously condemned," Vitter said in the letter to the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.
Vitter's letter to the ethics committee made no mention of his past indiscretions.
Democrats are refusing to budge.
"Sen. Vitter's charges are absurd and baseless," a spokesperson for Reid said. "This is nothing more than Sen. Vitter's desperate attempt to change the subject from his previous ethics issues."
"Sen. Vitter has manufactured a bizarre and phony attack that demeans the Senate," said Boxer, who chairs the ethics committee.
Senate Democrats haven't actually introduced any legislation to back up their plan, which was first reported by Politico, but the move was seen as a way to get under Vitter's skin as he continues to be a thorn in the side of Democrats on the issue of Obamacare.