Sensenbrenner slams Johnson over suit

Greg Nash

A veteran House Republican ripped his home-state GOP senator for his “unfortunate political stunt” on ObamaCare.

The unusual intraparty fight was triggered by Sen. Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonPollster: Clinton leads in 5 battlegrounds Juan Williams: GOP sounds the sirens over Trump Vulnerable Republican seeks edge on homeland security MORE’s (R-Wis.) new lawsuit against the Obama administration, which takes aim at the federal contributions that lawmakers and their staffs get for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Johnson unveiled the details of his legal case at a press conference Monday, but Rep. James Sensenbrenner’s statement on Sunday stole some of Johnson’s thunder.

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“Sen. Johnson’s lawsuit is an unfortunate political stunt,” Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) 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,” he added. “This will make it even more difficult to fight the president and his older, more experienced staff.”

Democrats pounced on the criticism of Johnson. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday read Sensenbrenner’s remarks on the Senate floor.

Johnson shot back at Sensenbrenner, saying he was “puzzled” by his Wisconsin colleague’s criticism.

“I have always respected Congressman Sensenbrenner, but I am disappointed and puzzled by his disagreement with me on an issue that all but two congressional Republicans (including Congressman Sensenbrenner) have voted in favor of — ending the special treatment for members of Congress and their staffs under ObamaCare,” Johnson said.

Democrats have dismissed Johnson’s lawsuit as a canard designed to score political points.

“This is more demagoguery from someone who knows full well that this is the normal federal employer contribution provided to all federal employees,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) told The Hill in an email.

The Sensenbrenner-Johnson flap is the latest sign of GOP unrest over ObamaCare, which united the party from 2009 through 2012. Last year, Republicans bickered with one another over ObamaCare funding during the government shutdown showdown. That fiscal fight badly hurt the GOP brand even as the administration badly fumbled the rollout of the ACA.

Some Republicans, meanwhile, want to coalesce behind an ObamaCare replacement bill. But GOP leaders have yet to do so.

Johnson’s lawsuit challenges an ACA that forces lawmakers and aides to buy insurance plans created by the healthcare law or sold on healthcare exchanges.

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.

“Americans are justifiably outraged when members of Congress exempt themselves from the very laws they impose on everyone else,” Johnson said.

Johnson added the OPM’s decision is illegal and emblematic of a pattern of executive overreach by Obama. He also argued that it amounted to special treatment for lawmakers unavailable to the general public.

Sensenbrenner, who has served in the House since 1978, claimed Johnson’s lawsuit would take the public’s focus away from more substantial issues facing the healthcare law.

“Sen. 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.

“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, Sen. Johnson’s suit is likely frivolous and will not achieve the result he’s seeking.”

Updated at 8:29 p.m.