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Ron Johnson Targets Member Health Care in Obamacare Debate

Seeks vote on a plan reminiscent David Vitter quest

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson has an amendment regarding member health insurance benefits. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson has an amendment regarding member health insurance benefits. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Ron Johnson is reviving a proposal to strip federal contributions for lawmakers’ health insurance on the exchanges set up by the 2010 health care law.

The Republican from Wisconsin filed the amendment to the pending health care reconciliation measure on Tuesday, and speaking Wednesday on a Milwaukee-based radio show, Johnson sounded intent on getting a vote as part of the process of unlimited amendments known as the vote-a-rama.

“My amendment making Congress — basically puts them in the same position as other Americans — that’ll be a pretty tough vote for members of Congress to cast ‘no’ on,” Johnson said on the Jay Weber Show on WISN.

Johnson’s version is more narrow than some of the similar offerings that became known as the Vitter amendment from former Louisiana GOP Sen. David Vitter. Johnson would only eliminate the health insurance exchange benefits for actual senators and members of the House, not the congressional aides who also get their insurance through the District of Columbia’s small business exchange.

The amendment appears likely to need 60 votes to advance through the Senate under the expedited process, because it could be subject to a budget point of order related to committee jurisdiction over laws affecting Washington, D.C.

Johnson is the chairman of that Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panel, but reconciliation has special limits on the scope of the bill and related amendments. The restrictions explain why Republicans have excluded their own health benefits from the broader roll back of the health care overhaul law.

Johnson said he had heard through staff of a family in Wisconsin that needed to sell their house to pay back subsidies that had been incorrectly provided under the 2010 health care law.

“They really would be voting for special treatment for themselves,” Johnson said. “Again, I want to put members of Congress in the same boat as that couple who lost their house, so that we’re a little more sympathetic and we actually do something to bring down these premiums that have been artificially increased because of Obamacare.”

The Wisconsin senator had previously filed a lawsuit to stop the Obama administration policy implemented by the Office of Personnel Management that allowed employer contributions to flow to the D.C. insurance exchange to help pay for member and staff benefits.

Despite his stated opposition to the 2010 health care law, President Donald Trump has not directed OPM to end the payments, as advocated by some conservative outside groups.