Sen. Ron Johnson said Monday he will ask the courts to make sure that Congress is treated the same way regular Americans are treated in the Obamacare marketplace, even if it means taking away his colleagues’ health care subsidies, because the financial aid is not in the Obamacare law they passed in 2010 and forces taxpayers to pay for part of lawmakers’ premiums.
Mr. Johnson, Wisconsin Republican, filed suit against the Office of Personnel Management, the agency that months ago said members of Congress and their staffs could keep the subsidy that paid for up to 75 percent of their premiums under the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan, even though they must obtain coverage from the Obamacare marketplace.
Mr. Johnson’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, says the rule forces him to engage in activity that appears to violate the law. He also said the rule alienates members of Congress from their constituents, because they might think their representatives in Washington are accepting special treatment.
Mr. Johnson’s lawsuit is the latest wrinkle in the Capitol Hill fight over a provision in the Affordable Care Act written by Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, that requires lawmakers and staff to purchase health coverage from Obamacare’s state-based marketplaces. The goal was to make lawmakers go through what many Americans are facing.
But its implementation was hard to swallow for lawmakers who feared their staff members would leave when they could no longer afford their health premiums.
Mr. Johnson said the political class in Washington was eager to comply with the Grassley provision, “until they really started thinking about what the true effect on themselves would be.”
“And of course that’s when they went running to President Obama for special treatment. And they got it,” Mr. Johnson said at the Capitol, standing beside lead attorney Rick Essenberg and former Solicitor General Paul D. Clement, who will handle possible appeals.
Mr. Johnson said the Obama administration should have come to Congress to fix the problem instead of issuing an administration rule. He did not outline a specific congressional solution but said he preferred a legislative fix.
Mr. Johnson said he will pay for the legal challenge through either his personal funds or money from his campaign committee, because the Senate ethics panel told him the latter option is OK.
Not everyone’s on board with the suit, however, including fellow Obamacare foes.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a fellow Republican from Wisconsin, said the new lawsuit is misguided and will only hurt the Capitol Hill employees they rely on.
“Senator Johnson’s lawsuit is an unfortunate political stunt,” he said. “I am committed to repealing Obamacare, but the employer contribution he’s attacking is nothing more than a standard benefit that most private and all federal employees receive — including the President. Success in the suit will mean that Congress will lose some of its best staff and will be staffed primarily by recent college graduates who are still on their parents’ insurance.”
Lawmakers and staff are supposed to enroll in the District of Columbia’s small-business exchange, or “SHOP,” and choose from one of 112 options in the gold-tier level of health plans, although some lawmakers opted to forego subsidies and enroll in their home states.
Mr. Johnson said his family had trouble on the D.C. exchange and opted to get coverage back home in Wisconsin through the private market, foregoing a subsidy.