Republican senator takes Obamacare grievance to court
January 6th, 2014
12:01 PM ET
11 months ago

Republican senator takes Obamacare grievance to court

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Washington (CNN) – Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin is waging a new battle against Obamacare outside of Congress, hiring a powerhouse attorney and filing a federal lawsuit that could reopen a debate over how lawmakers get their own healthcare.

“This is a lawsuit that I am filing against Katherine Archuleta and the Office of Personnel Management to overturn their ruling that gives members of Congress and their staffs special treatment under the health care law,” Johnson told reporters Monday.  “I think it’s a basic issue of fairness.”

Flanking Johnson was his attorney for the case, legal superstar Paul Clement who is known for taking dozens of issues to the Supreme Court, including arguments against the Affordable Care Act.

In a suit filed in the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Johnson is challenging the rules that govern how members of Congress and their staff get their health care, insisting that they should not receive any federal health benefit money and that no Capitol Hill staffers should be exempted from exchange requirements.

The law essentially says that the only health coverage available to members of Congress and their staff through their job must come from the newly created Obamacare insurance exchanges.  But the wording in the law is broad and the Office of Personnel Management had to issue a rule to determine how it would apply.

That rule, Johnson alleges, subverted the law and opened up loopholes by allowing each member of Congress to determine which workers on their staff would be forced into the exchange and by giving thousands of dollars in employer-sponsored health benefit to help pay for the exchange policies.

The issue is heavily debated within the walls of the Capitol, with others arguing that the health care law says nothing about whether the federal government should help pay for coverage or not.  And while Johnson believes that lawmakers would relate to constituents more by using the exchanges with no federal benefit money, others point out that the vast majority of Americans receive employer-sponsored coverage.

Like most large employers, the federal government pays for a sizable portion of the premiums for its main health benefit package – the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHBP).  The ACA provision in question separated members of Congress and their staff from the FEHBP policies starting on January 1, sending them to the exchanges.  If all premium support were also cut, those workers would have lost gotten what amounted to a net cut in pay. But the OPM rule allowed the federal benefit dollars to keep flowing to thousands of Hill staffers.

Johnson says that rule was aggressive overreach by the Obama administration. “The president doesn’t have the authority to change the law,” the Wisconsin Republican said. “If members of Congress and this administration don’t like the law of the land, they should come to Congress to change the law of the land.”

But don’t expect this to be a Constitutional throw-down.  The lawsuit’s arguments don’t address executive branch power directly. They are more technical: Johnson argues the exchange plans don’t meet negotiation requirements, that the federal government is too large to operate as a sort of small business in the exchanges and that the OPM rule violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution by giving lawmakers and staff an advantage over other Americans.

Not all Republicans agree with Johnson taking this aspect of the law to court. Another GOP lawmaker from Wisconsin, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, called the move an "unfortunate political stunt" that was aimed at attacking "nothing more than a standard benefit that most private and all federal employees receive – including the President."

"Senator Johnson should spend his time legislating rather than litigating as our country is facing big problems that must be addressed by Congress – not the courts," Sensenbrenner said in a statement. "All Republicans want to repeal Obamacare, but this politically motivated lawsuit only takes public attention away from how bad all of Obamacare really is and focuses it on a trivial issue."

“I have a great deal of respect for Congressman Sensenbrenner,” Johnson responded Monday.  “But I’m… puzzled by his reaction… I don’t in any way shape or form believe this is trivial.”

Johnson said he will pay for the lawsuit with either campaign funds or out of his personal bank accounts.

Although Johnson's lawsuit tracks with his record opposing the healthcare law, the move also helps a Republican Party focused on making Obamacare – and the botched rollout the stymied the law in 2013 – the focus of the 2014 midterms elections.

Johnson’s attorney Clement told CNN the soonest a decision could come from the federal district court is “in months”.

– CNN's Deirdre Walsh and Dan Merica contributed to this report


Filed under: Health care • Healthcare • Obamacare • Ron Johnson
soundoff (49 Responses)
  1. Quickpaydayz

    Oh it is great that you agree with this. I know that its hard to belive on this but u did and wrote a good post.

    January 6, 2014 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  2. just saying

    it is about time that people and groups start challenging this leftist dictator obama and his usurping of congressional duties and responsibilities. his job is to enforce the laws, not make them up and change them as he sees fit for political reasons. we look more and more like a banana republic every day that obama is in the white house.

    January 6, 2014 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  3. Smitty

    Another day, another Oblundercare mess, another day of people making excuses for Obammy. Congrats Mr Pres for winning BIGGEST LIAR OF THE YEAR AWARD, Im sure you consider it an honor !!!!! LOL

    January 6, 2014 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  4. Vince

    YAAAWWWNNNN. Get complaint or pay your fine.

    January 6, 2014 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  5. emskadittle

    so he is going to court to allow him to opt out of the exchanges, a provision added by republicans

    January 6, 2014 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  6. ThinkAgain - If you want Congress to actually do something FOR the American people, vote out the Repub/tea bag majority

    I think the first thing that should happen is this repub senator is for him to refund all his funding from conservative sources. The Heritage Foundation, after all, is where the idea of the individual mandate came from.

    January 6, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  7. CB FL

    I would like to know who is paying the lawyers. CNN should do there job and look into this.

    January 6, 2014 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  8. Ron L

    This is just a little more DRAMA to keep those Americans that dislike the law (and have nothing to replace it) all pumped up about criticizing it. What really gets me is the comments about America becoming more like a dictatorship or banana republic. In order to say that, you REALLY have no idea what either term truly means.

    January 6, 2014 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  9. The Real Tom Paine

    Has Ron Johnson actually done anything to warrant his salary and perks? Jim Sensenbrenner raises a valid point about what Johnson is doing, which is nothing more than a Joe-McCarthy type stunt.

    January 6, 2014 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  10. Tampa Tim

    An unfortunate political stunt pretty much sums up the goopers.

    January 6, 2014 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  11. TONE

    These clowns have to go come november, i cannot stand their ignorance.

    January 6, 2014 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  12. Tampa Tim

    Ron received most of his financial support from the dark side of the Republican Party. This is their payback.

    January 6, 2014 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  13. ProudDem

    The ACA did not affect employees covered by their employer at all. UNTIL Grassley decided to make a political stunt by adding his amendment. Then people figured out that HIS political stunt would mean a cut in pay for these federal workers, many of whom are just office staffers making regular wage jobs. So the President gives them back their employer contribution...and now another political stunt to made headlines and not much else....

    January 6, 2014 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  14. S.B. Stein

    If the GOP had bothered to work with the Democrats when this was formulated, then it might have been better. It is like the saying, "don't vote, don't complain." In this case, they didn't work on it, so they can't really complain until they offer their alternative. I haven't seen that.

    January 6, 2014 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  15. just saying

    Ron L
    What really gets me is the comments about America becoming more like a dictatorship or banana republic. In order to say that, you REALLY have no idea what either term truly means.
    --

    well then enlighten us all with what either term truly means and show us how obama's lawlessness and unconstitional actions do not fit the bill.

    nsa spying on everybody and then lying about it to congress, bypassing congress to change laws, ignore laws, make up laws, using the irs to target political opponents, targeting reporters by lying to the court, illegal gun running across international borders with the knowledge of the other country, taking over our healthcare system when a majority of americans do not support it.

    so whatcha got?

    January 6, 2014 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  16. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    "unfortunate political stunt"
    ---------------------------------
    That's all it is. Republicans need to deal with the fact that the PP&ACA is LAW!!! Get over it already.

    January 6, 2014 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  17. Anonymous

    Rant Paul......suing NSA, part of what came out of the Bush Patriot Act,
    Ron Johnson......suing a part of the ACA that Chuck Grassley forced on them.
    They are suing each other, technically.......three weeks vacation didn't help these dolts.

    Guess there's nothing else for them to do. All problems are solved: immigration reform, unemployment benefits,
    budget, etc. etc, etc............ all solved.

    And this is what you think the American people want?

    January 6, 2014 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  18. The REAL Truth...

    Really.. didn't the GOP already try taking ACA to the SCOTUS? I guess that didn't work so now another (yawn) Republicant is going outside of Congress to do an end-run around legislative rules. Gotta love the GOP.. they're all for the Heritage Foundation plan (the individual mandate) and Romneycare, until a Democrat implements it.

    January 6, 2014 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  19. sonny chapman

    I always enjoy the deep & significant sounding language used by Repubs. when they are "forced" to take action because of their 'Principals". They sound like when movie actor John Caradine ,playing a Politician in "Liberty Valance", would make Great Pronouncements. Maybe that's why I love Matthew 23, when Jesus laid into the Pharisees.

    January 6, 2014 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  20. Lynda/Minnesota

    Ooops. How much do you think the Koch brothers promised him in future fundraising for this little stint of his?

    January 6, 2014 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  21. The Real Tom Paine

    -just saying

    Ron L
    What really gets me is the comments about America becoming more like a dictatorship or banana republic. In order to say that, you REALLY have no idea what either term truly means.

    well then enlighten us all with what either term truly means and show us how obama's lawlessness and unconstitional actions do not fit the bill.

    nsa spying on everybody and then lying about it to congress, bypassing congress to change laws, ignore laws, make up laws, using the irs to target political opponents, targeting reporters by lying to the court, illegal gun running across international borders with the knowledge of the other country, taking over our healthcare system when a majority of americans do not support it.

    so whatcha got?

    ****************
    For you, pity. Pity that you come on here, day after day with the same predictable, boring comments, devoid of any real thought or any real consideration for this country, its people, its values, or its institutions.

    January 6, 2014 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  22. John

    what a putz. AFTER the ACA Congress and their staffs have what that is different? Maybe it is slightly better coverage than they had. Maybe they also pay less for it, or perhaps a few dollars more. This jerk is gonna cost another pointless million dollar lawsuit, probably using some of MY taxpayer dollars. What a putz.

    January 6, 2014 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  23. ghostwriter

    just saying.....with the exception of your NSA rant, the rest of your post isn't backed by any evidence. Which wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for the fact that you guys had 5 years of hearings to find evidence and came up with nothing....

    At what point does screaming unfounded talking points become spreading lies?

    January 6, 2014 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  24. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    "I’m all for repeal, but it’s there. What do you do with what’s there?... We’ve got to start talking about the reality of the situation." – Sen. Ron Johnson 12/13
    ------------------------------------
    The reality is that the PP&ACA is LAW, and your futile attempts to disrupt it's implementation is purely political.

    January 6, 2014 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  25. Name jk. Sfl. GOP CRUZ lee&rubio 24billion dallar LOSS of your tax money conservatives,the garbage of America.

    Just another GOP STOOGE who will be replaced in 2014 midterms, the whole country hates the tea idiots and kick most of them out in the next election. Their biggest accomplishment is losing 24 billion dallars in 16 days and they think their going to get realected?????

    January 6, 2014 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
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