Sen. Ron Johnson filed a lawsuit over congressional healthcare subsidies on Monday in Wisconsin, dragging the partisan war over Obamacare into the courts.
Johnson claimed that federal subsidies funding congressional healthcare plans are forcing him to live by a law he believes is illegal and estranges him and his staff from constituents who don’t have such benefits—an argument Johnson hopes will be seen in the eyes of the court as enough “harm” to give him standing in court.
“By arranging for me and other members of Congress and their staffs to receive benefits intentionally ruled out by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the administration has exceeded its legal authority,” the Wisconsin Republican wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion editorial unveiling the lawsuit.
Critics of the president’s healthcare reform have long said that if Obamacare is indeed affordable, shouldn’t Congress (and their staffs) be subject to paying the full tab as some Americans will?
Defenders counter again and again: employee subsidies are part of healthcare for millions of Americans and while Obamacare mandates that congressional employees and representatives buy healthcare on the Obamacare exchanges, it doesn’t mean they can’t continue receiving the subsidies that have long been a part of their compensation.
But Johnson said it’s not the employer contribution he objects to.
“I’m not being critical of that, I’m being critical of a president who knows no bounds,” he said.
And while he and his lawyer noted that they don’t think this is the worst part of the bill, Johnson believes its one he can litigate in court and said he hopes the lawsuit will be a “long overdue check on presidential power, expanding presidential power – particularly with this president.”
He is being defended by Rick Esenberg.
Paul Clement, a high-profile attorney who represented 26 states in their legal battles against Obamacare’s individual mandate, also appeared and spoke at the Monday afternoon press conference arguing for Johnson’s standing.
Legislators do not traditionally have standing to make a case in court against legislation, but Clement argued that this case is an exception because it specifically affects the senator.
“Unlike a classic challenge to a statute, this is a challenge to the implementation of a statute that is specifically directed to the Senate, Congress, their offices, and how they get their healthcare,” he said, adding that Congress voted many times to create “parity” with their constituents on healthcare.
The Office of Personnel Management later ruled at the president’s direction to continue subsidizing staff and elected officials healthcare—something that “really interferes with that Congressional judgment. It stops what happened in the halls of Congress,” according to Clement.
It’s the latest Republican-led effort to dismantle Obamacare. The House has voted dozens of times to repeal Obamacare and a legislative ploy to defund Obamacare in both chambers shut the government down in October for 16 days.
“It doesn’t look like it’s going to move legislatively,” Johnson added at the press conference of his desire to repeal the entire bill. “So this is my only alternative.”