Sen. Ron Johnson sued Monday to take away his fellow lawmakers' health care subsidies, saying members of Congress and staff who must enter the Obamacare marketplace should not get financial perks that regular Americans cannot obtain.
Mr. Johnson, Wisconsin Republican, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Green Bay, Wis., against the Office of Personnel Management, the agency that months ago said members of Congress and their staffs could keep subsidies that paid for up to 75 percent of their premiums — even if they must pick health care plans from state-based exchanges tied to the Affordable Care Act.
He said the Obama administration's move forces lawmakers to violate the letter of the 2010 law, which generally prohibits those who buy insurance on the exchanges from getting subsidies from their employers.
"I think it's just a basic issue of fairness," Mr. Johnson said, standing in the Capitol beside lead attorney Rick Esenberg, of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, and former U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement, who will handle appeals.
Congressional lawmakers' treatment of themselves under Obamacare has been a major sticking point ever since they wrote language into the law requiring them and their official office staffers to forgo their federal benefit package health care plans and instead sign up for plans offered on the exchanges.
OPM ruled that lawmakers could decide which of their staffers had to enroll and which could keep their plans, and ruled that lawmakers and staffers could continue to have the government pay for most of their premiums.
Mr. Johnson's lawsuit drew fire from both parties.
Fellow Wisconsin Republican Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. called it "an unfortunate political stunt."
"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," Mr. Sensenbrenner said, adding that Mr. Johnson's proposal would encourage good congressional staffers to quit their jobs.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said the lawsuit is another sign that Republicans remain intent on unraveling Mr. Obama's chief domestic accomplishment.
"They just can't get enough of this," Mr. Reid said.
Mr. Johnson said the problem is that Congress is trying to exempt itself from its own laws.
He said he would have preferred a legislative fix that would put lawmakers on an equal playing field with everyday Americans but legal action was his best recourse after Congress failed to act.
Mr. Johnson acknowledged that Congress is a special case because the health care exchanges were supposed to help people who do not have employer-based coverage.
But he said the "next wave" of people to lose health care coverage as a result of the law will be those who are kicked off employer-sponsored plans and dumped into the Obamacare exchanges because their employers want to cut costs. These people would have to hope that they qualify for income-based subsidies instead of the generous employer subsidies that members of Congress retain.
He said he will pay for his legal challenge with personal funds or raise money through his campaign committee.
Lawmakers and their staffs are supposed to enroll in the District of Columbia's small-business exchange and choose from one of 112 options in the gold-tier level of health care plans, although some lawmakers opted to forfeit subsidies and enroll in their home states.
Mr. Johnson said his family had trouble on the D.C. exchange and opted to get coverage in Wisconsin through the private market, forgoing the employer subsidy.
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