GOP senator hits Sensenbrenner, says O-Care suit not a 'stunt'

Greg Nash

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) slammed a fellow Republican lawmaker on Tuesday for criticizing his lawsuit over how lawmakers' health coverage is subsidized under ObamaCare.

In an appearance on C-SPAN, Johnson defended his effort against charges from veteran Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) that the suit is a "fruitless attempt to stop the [healthcare] law" and an "unfortunate political stunt."

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"This is not frivolous," Johnson said on "Washington Journal." "This is not a stunt. This is a very serious constitutional question."

Johnson also criticized Sensenbrenner for making "a lot of noise" about the issue before his suit was filed.

The intra-party spat concerns Johnson's attempt to stop federal contributions from flowing to lawmaker and staff health plans purchased on ObamaCare's exchanges.

Johnson argues the subsidies represent an unfair benefit to Congress and a case of executive overreach by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

Sensenbrenner, meanwhile, argued in January that the employer contribution is "nothing more than a standard benefit that most private and all federal employees receive."

"Success in the suit will mean that Congress will lose some of its best staff," he said in a statement at the time.

Johnson is one of just a handful of members keeping the controversy alive.

Last year, both Republicans and Democrats urged the executive branch to continue making an employer contribution to the healthcare coverage of lawmakers and staff on Capitol Hill.

The practice almost ended because ObamaCare requires those individuals to obtain health plans on its exchanges, which do not have a mechanism for applying an employer subsidy.

The fix from OPM was criticized by conservatives as an exemption for lawmakers and staff from the requirements of ObamaCare.

But defenders, including many on the right, said the move corrected an oversight in the law that would have caused a mass exodus from Congress to the private sector.

Most workers in the private and public sectors receive a healthcare subsidy from their employer to lower costs.

Ending that subsidy for Capitol Hill would replace experienced staff with "recent college graduates who are still on their parents' insurance," Sensenbrenner argued in January.

Johnson suggested Tuesday that his colleague's opposition to the lawsuit softened once he "found out the public popularity of exactly what I was trying to do."

A request for comment from Sensenbrenner's office was not immediately returned.

"Hopefully now he understand that it's not just about this narrow regulation on the special treatment," Johnson said. "It's more about the overall constitutional issue."