Ron Johnson May Sue Over Obamacare Ruling for Congressional Staff

(CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted September 19, 2013 at 3:57pm

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said Thursday he is laying groundwork for a court challenge to an Office of Personnel Management decision that will permit congressional staffers to continue receiving employer contributions for their health care.

The OPM’s August ruling was intended to remedy a drafting error in the 2010 health care law that would require all Congressional staffers to pay for the full cost of their insurance without employer contributions.

Johnson, who last week filed a formal comment to OPM urging the agency reconsider its rule, said he and his staff did so in order to create a legal case against the administration.

“I really do believe that it was the pretty clear intent of the people who voted for Obamacare that members of Congress and their staffs should not be able to maintain their … insurance through the Federal Employee Health Benefits plan, and they also made it pretty clear through multiple votes that they didn’t think the federal government ought to make contributions into the exchanges where they had to get it,” Johnson said.

“I can’t tell you how OPM’s really going to conduct themselves … but you know, I did put in a comment into OPM, and the purpose behind that is I don’t think they’re going to follow… my advice, but I just wanted to make sure I certainly did everything I could do … through the normal channels so that I could then do a court challenge,” Johnson continued. “That helped me create standing.”

Currently, the Senate is stalled over an amendment from Republican David Vitter of Louisiana that would reverse the OPM rule. Vitter is trying to get the amendment voted on in conjunction with an energy efficiency bill.

When Johnson announced on Sept. 10 that he and several of his staffers had filed a comment to OPM, he said in a statement: “My intent is to make sure President Obama is not allowed to exceed his legal authority in implementing this law, and that members of Congress and their staffs are not shielded from the harmful effects of this law that every other American will experience.”

On Thursday, when explaining his frustration, Johnson said: “If Congress doesn’t like that, they should change the law.”

The open secret of the Vitter amendment fight is that few members of either party really want to vote on it. Even most Republicans concede that the original intent of the provision at hand was not to make staffers pay out of pocket completely for their health coverage, just to force them into exchanges set up by the law for the uninsured or self-insured. Moreover, some Republicans expressed frustration that the multiple Obamacare fights in Congress right now are detracting from the larger spending level debate they could be having with Democrats instead.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.