Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) tore into fellow Wisconsinite and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) for what Sensenbrenner described as a frivolous “political stunt” of a lawsuit designed to block health care subsidies for members of Congress and their staffs.
Johnson outlined the goals of his suit in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Monday. Johnson filed his suit against the Office of Personnel Management, which has interpreted the Affordable Care Act to mean that the federal government may offer tax-free subsidies to help members of Congress and their staff buy exchange health plans.
Johnson is seeking to block the federal government from helping to pay for coverage, arguing that OPM’s interpretation does not fall in line with the text of the Affordable Care Act.
Sensenbrenner responded in a scathing statement, saying that Johnson’s lawsuit would unintentionally lead to an exodus of talent from Capitol Hill staffs:
“Senator Johnson’s lawsuit is 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,” Sensenbrenner said.
“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. This will make it even more difficult to fight the President and his older, more experienced staff.”
At heart is another intra-GOP dispute over health-insurance subsidies for congressional lawmakers and staff under the Affordable Care Act. Several Republican lawmakers have drafted legislative proposals aimed at the same goal as Johnson’s, efforts that have been led by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.).
If Johnson’s lawsuit is successful, it would amount to an effective pay cut of thousands of dollars for congressional staff and lawmakers. They would also, effectively, be the only employees in the U.S. who are barred from receiving employer subsidies on health care. It’s an issue that has ruffled feathers among staffs on both sides of the aisle.
“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.
“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. Fortunately, Senator Johnson’s suit is likely frivolous and will not achieve the result he’s seeking.”
Johnson responded to Sensenbrenner with a statement of his own, saying he was “disappointed and puzzled” by Sensenbrenner’s reaction.
“By no means do I believe this issue is trivial, or my lawsuit to overturn this injustice is frivolous. This is an issue of basic fairness that I believe is worth fighting for,” Johnson said.
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