Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) released a statement on Monday criticizing fellow Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson, for filing a lawsuit in an attempt to prevent Congressional staff from receiving an employer contribution to help pay for the health insurance that they purchase through a health care exchange.
While saying that he too wants to repeal the law the congressman decried the lawsuit as a “political stunt” and referred to it as “frivolous” saying that if it were to be successful Congress would experience the loss of many bright minds as more seasoned staffers, already paid very little would leave for greener pastures. The only people who would accept these jobs would be fresh college graduates who are still on their parents policies.
“Senator Johnson’s lawsuit is an unfortunate political stunt,” Sensenbrenner said. “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. 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.”
Johnson announced in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that he had filed the lawsuit and he also held a press conference on Monday, with former U.S. solicitor general Paul Clement and lead attorney Rick Esenberg at his side. The suit takes aim at a ruling by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) which interpreted an ambiguous provision of the law in a way which would allow members of Congress and their staff to receive an employer contribution to help defray the cost of policies which are purchased on the exchanges.
Johnson and many other Republicans have described the contribution as an unfair exemption from the law for Congress and staffers even though this has long been a standard practice in the private sector and in fact it is how Congress and their staffs have always paid for their insurance under the old Federal Employee Health Benefits Program. They have attempted to reverse the ruling by the OPM legislatively several times but have been unsuccessful.
Many staffers make only $30,000 annually while living in one of the most expensive cities in the nation and to place the full burden of the health benefit they have always received on them will not attract the best and the brightest.
“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,” said Sensenbrenner. “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.”
If the Senator is successful with his lawsuit it will make Congressional staffers the only employees in the country who are not allowed to receive assistance from their employer to pay for their heath insurance.
“I’ve a great deal of respect for Congressman Sensenbrenner,” Johnson said when asked about his statement. “I’m disappointed — I’m really puzzled by his reaction. … I don’t in any way shape or form believe this is frivolous or trivial, that this is a stunt. So I just respectfully disagree with the Congressman.”
As we have reported here before, Senator Johnson has no reason to worry about the cost of his own insurance, he is one of the wealthiest members of Congress with a net worth of $12.5 million, according to Roll Call.