Ron Johnson Describes His ACA Lawsuit

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Ron Johnson Describes His ACA Lawsuit

Premiere Date: 
January 10, 2014

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson sued the Obama administration about a part of the health care law.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

Wisconsin US senator Ron Johnson has a new salvo in his opposition to the Affordable Care Act. This week the Republican senator filed suit in US district court in Wisconsin challenging a provision that allows members of congress and their staff to get 75% of their premium costs for their health care exchange plans covered by the federal government. The lawsuit met with quick criticism from a fellow Wisconsin Republican in the US house. Joining us from Milwaukee with his take on the lawsuit is Wisconsin's US senator Ron Johnson and, Senator, thanks very much for being here.

Ron Johnson:

Hello, Frederica.

Frederica Freyberg:

So what is the bottom line basis for this lawsuit?

Ron Johnson:

Well, first of all I have no problem in any employer contributing and helping their employees obtain affordable and accessible healthcare. The issue here is the special treatment the members of congress and their status have carved out for themselves, really unlawfully by this president in issuing an order for which he has no constitutional authority to do so. The special treatment is basically this, the next wave of cancelled policies will be individuals losing their employer-sponsored care that comes to them pre-tax. I mean, that contribution is tax deductible. When those individuals who have lost their coverage because of Obamacare start accessing their care from the exchanges, they're going to have to do with after-tax dollars. Members of congress who are also losing their employer-sponsored care because of Obamacare, they're the only Americans that when they access their insurance through the exchange, they’ll be doing it with an employer contribution that has a tax advantage. And, oh, by the way, President Obama has no legal authority to do so. So it's not a frivolous lawsuit. It’s not a stunt. I think it's an important constitutional issue. I think it’s an issue based on fairness.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, in terms of the people who will be getting this coverage, though, if your lawsuit is not successful. I mean, it’s your staff members, yourself and it's really just maintains the status quo with the federal government making that employer contribution.  

Ron Johnson:

Well, that is true. But, again, I'm trying to make sure that congress lives by the laws it passed. And back when we were debating healthcare, the public was pretty skeptical, and so certainly the Democrats who supported this bill wanted to make a big show that, hey, we're willing to fully subject ourselves to all the rules and regulations of Obamacare. They were fine with it when they were selling it to the American public, but now that it's actually being implemented, now they run to President Obama for special treatment. The reason it's important they are subject to all the rules and regulations, they have the same experience that their constituents are feeling, is right now Democrats are turning a deaf ear to the pleas of the American public that have lost their coverage, have lost access to doctors and treatments that kept them alive. And only when they actually do experience what their constituents are experiencing will they, hopefully, do the right thing, act responsibly, start passing legislation that will start repairing the damage and limiting the future damage of the healthcare law.

Frederica Freyberg:

Let's check in now with Wisconsin Republican congressman Jim Sensenbrenner and hear what he had to say about your lawsuit. We have just his statement, which reads, “Senator Johnson's lawsuit is an unfortunate political stunt.” As you referenced Senator. “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. Senator Johnson should spend his time legislating rather than litigating.” You spoke to the idea that you don't believe in any way that this is a political stunt. But what is your reaction to Congressman Sensenbrenner saying these things?

Ron Johnson:

Well, in three years in the senate I've returned almost $1.7 million of the budget allocated to me. Members of congress have a very generous budget. They have more than enough money to staff their offices with qualified people to do the people's business. So that charge is nonsense. But listen. I have a great deal of respect for Congressman Sensenbrenner. Always will. We obviously disagree on this thing. But in this case he's just wrong.

Frederica Freyberg:

Are you suggesting that if in fact your lawsuit was successful and the staffers in your office lost the employer contribution on the part of the federal government that you would somehow make that up for them through your budget?  

Ron Johnson:

I'd be doing it on a case-by-case basis. What's happening in my office is some of my staff members are actually going to coverage with a spouse. Some of them are obviously buying through the exchanges. Currently we're following the rules and regulations and they're getting the employer contribution. But, yeah, that's exactly what happened. For me personally, my wife went on the DC exchange, took her quite a while to get on it. When she saw all the information she had to enter, and certainly was aware of all the security issues with the website, she decided not to do it. We decided to buy our coverage through a broker. I'm not accepting the employer contribution. But I have no criticism for any member of congress or any staff member that's just following the rules, the regulations, taking those contributions. This is a constitutional issue. This is really talking about the president, who not only in this case-- And the only reason I'm pushing this is I think I can establish standing in this. And by the way, I've got some pretty good attorneys who believe I have standing in this case too. This is talking about a president who is continually, across the board, in many different instances, basically with presidential edict, changing the law of the land. He just shouldn't have that power.

Frederica Freyberg:

And I think you're talking about, when changing the law of the land, making this fix that would allow these employer contributions toward these exchange plans. But my understanding was, from reading even a Heritage Foundation paper on this topic, was that both sides of the aisle when they realized that Senator Charles Grassley's amendments didn't actually make the final law, those amendments calling for this contribution, both sides of the aisle pushed for this fix.  

Ron Johnson:

Well, sure. Nobody wanted to lose their employer contribution. Nobody wanted to be treated like every other American. So, yeah, a lot of people wanted special treatment. But then they should change the law. That's my point. It's illegal. It's a constitutional issue. I'm not trying to punish anybody. I'm just trying to get the president to follow the law. And I think it's just wrong. As we've seen over my lifetime the balance of power shift more toward presidential power, away from congressional power. That disturbs that constitutional balance, the check and balance to limit the size of federal government, and that certainly limits our freedom as well.

Frederica Freyberg:

I wish we had a little more time on this. Senator Ron Johnson, thanks very much for joining us.

Ron Johnson:

Have a great day.   


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