By Jonathan Easley - 01/06/14 01:17 PM EST
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on Monday said he’s suing the Obama administration over the federal contributions that lawmakers and their staffs get for health insurance in an attempt to curb the president’s “abuse of executive authority.”
“I believe I have an obligation to try and reestablish the checks and balances that our founders put in the Constitution to limit the size and power of our government,” Johnson said at a press conference.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) said last year that the federal government would continue to help members of Congress and staffers offset the costs of those plans, as the government does for other federal employees.
Critics have framed the subsidies as special treatment for members of Congress that are unavailable to the general public.
“The American people expect ... that members of Congress, the political class in Washington, should be fully subject to all of the rules and all of the laws ... and that is not the case,” Johnson said.
“[Members of Congress] went running to President Obama for special treatment and they got it,” he added. “That’s completely unfair and completely unjust and that’s what I’m trying to overturn.”
Not all Republicans agree with Johnson.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) called the lawsuit a “political stunt” that would drive talent away from Capitol Hill.
“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,” he said.
“The employer contribution he's attacking is nothing more than a standard benefit that most private and all federal employees receive — including the president,” he said. “Success in this suit will mean that Congress will lose some of its best staff.”
Johnson acknowledged the subsidies were not in his view the most egregious action the administration had taken to boost the healthcare law. But he argued the subsidies offered the best legal opening to challenge what he says is a pattern of executive overreach by President Obama.
“This is not about whether the subsidies are ok, but about whether the rule of law should be upheld,” said Rick Esenberg of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.
The Obama administration has instituted a string of unilateral delays aimed at correcting flaws and buying time after the disastrous rollout of HealthCare.gov.
It has worked with insurance companies to delay the premium payments deadline. It has also delayed on multiple occasions the sign-up date for coverage beginning Jan. 1, pushed back by six weeks the sign-up date for those seeking coverage by April 1, and delayed the second-year enrollment period until after the 2014 elections.
“The president doesn’t have the authority and at some point in time he needs to be challenged on that,” Johnson said Monday.
Esenberg and Paul Clement, the former solicitor general who argued before the Supreme Court that ObamaCare was unconstitutional, joined Johnson at the press conference.
—Bernie Becker contributed to this story.