Earlier this year, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) thought he’d come up with a great idea: he’d file a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act in the hopes of making coverage more expensive for Capitol Hill staff. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Johnson’s home state of Wisconsin, conceded the senator’s lawsuit was “frivolous” and an “unfortunate political stunt.”
Yesterday, in a development that was arguably even more important than it appears at first blush, a federal judge threw out the case.
A federal judge based in Green Bay has tossed a Sen. Ron Johnson’s Obamacare lawsuit targeting the health benefits for members of Congress and their staff.The court dismissed the lawsuit, which contended the Obama administration decision to grant employer contributions for health plans purchased through the District of Columbia’s Obamacare health exchange ran afoul of the law.Chief Judge William C. Griesbach of the Eastern District of Wisconsin ruled that Johnson and fellow plaintiff Brooke Ericson lacked standing, siding with the argument made by the government’s lawyers.
The hurdle for Johnson’s lawyers was always going to be difficult to clear: how would the Republican senator demonstrate he’d been harmed by the health care policy he doesn’t like? Remember, when filing a lawsuit challenging the legality of a law, plaintiffs can’t just say, “I don’t like it.” They need to show how they’ve been adversely affected by it.
Johnson couldn’t, so his case was dismissed. But this is more than just a setback for one Republican senator with a partisan axe to grind; this is also likely the start of things to come for the GOP’s anti-Obama litigation.
Let’s not forget that in April, Johnson not only had high hopes for his case, he also had the enthusiastic support of his Republican colleagues. As we talked about at the time, 38 GOP senators signed onto a legal brief, urging the courts to rule in Johnson’s favor.
As these lawmakers saw it, they were fighting for the preservation of the republic. “The unlawful executive action at issue in this case is not an isolated incident,” the brief said. “Rather, it is part of an ongoing campaign by the executive branch to rewrite the Affordable Care Act on a wholesale basis.”
The courts must side with Johnson, the GOP lawmakers’ brief added, because the administration’s campaign “threatens to subvert the most basic precept of our system of government.”
It was, to be sure, a dumb and overdramatic argument. But more important, it also failed miserably – a federal judge ruled late yesterday that without standing to argue the case, far-right lawmakers will have to pursue their preservation of the republic in some other way.
One wonders if House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) took note of the developments.
As for the underlying policy issue, a little background is probably in order. Johnson argued that Democrats came up with a congressional subsidy in the ACA “once members realized how harmful Obamacare actually was.” That was brazenly false.
In reality, the law includes a provision that says members of Congress and their staffs have to sign up for coverage through an exchange. This became tricky because the exchange marketplaces were designed primarily for the uninsured, but Republicans said they wanted this in the law, so it’s in there.
But the story got a little more complicated when the Office of Personnel Management had to decide whether lawmakers and their staffs should also receive the same employer subsidy as everyone else, or whether everyone on Capitol Hill should face higher costs just because they work on Capitol Hill. OPM, with the blessing of the House Republican leadership, said lawmakers and aides can keep the same employer subsidy and play by the same rules as everyone else.
And that’s why Johnson sued – he wanted Capitol Hill employees to pay more for health care because it would make the right feel better. As of yesterday, the argument is a bust.