Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 10, 2015

Sensenbrenner Blasts Ron Johnson’s Lawsuit Against Staff Health Care Contributions

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A fellow Wisconsinite is criticizing Republican Sen. Ron Johnson’s lawsuit against the Obama administration over employee contributions to staff health care.

Johnson’s making good on a idea he floated in September to #WGDB that he might try to sue to stop an Office of Personnel Management decision allowing for continued employer contributions to members and staff as they move on to the District of Columbia’s health care exchange for 2014, as required by the health care overhaul law. Johnson and like-minded supporters say this runs afoul of the intent of the Obamacare law.

But Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., slammed the lawsuit strategy in a statement issued Sunday.

“Senator Johnson’s lawsuit is an unfortunate political stunt. 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,” Sensenbrenner said. “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.”

Sensenbrenner is a longtime House member and former chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He’s expressing concerns that were shared publicly and privately by many lawmakers and senior aides about the possible “brain drain” from taking away the employer contribution. Several Republicans, led by Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, have floated legislative proposals that would accomplish the same goal as the Johnson lawsuit.

Johnson is set to formally announce the suit at a news conference Monday on Capitol Hill. His office said Sunday that the formal court filing would come today. Johnson outlined his plans in an opinion piece published by The Wall Street Journal.

“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. 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,” Sensenbrenner added.

“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 in his own statement.

“By no means do I believe this issue is trivial, or my lawsuit to overturn this injustice is frivolous,” Johnson said in his response. “This is an issue of basic fairness that I believe is worth fighting for.”

Comments (63)

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  1. jhep3304

    Jan. 6, 2014
    12:41 p.m.

    And just where would these “fleeing staff” find jobs as lucrative?

    • Raylusk

      Jan. 6, 2014
      2:38 p.m.

      You are kidding, right? When staff leaves Congress they make a great deal more money working for groups that lobbie Congress.

      • Dirk Diggler

        Jan. 6, 2014
        3:18 p.m.

        They don’t make any money working on the Hill, typically getting paid low wages and working long hours. When they leave it depends on the knowledge and expertise. Junior staffers typically don’t get anything out of leaving salarywise. Senior staffers do get jobs off the Hill, but depends on experience, issue knowledge, years in service, who they worked for, Committees they worked on, etc, etc. It’s certainly no guarantee they go to “lobbie”, sometimes its academia, private sector, other government jobs. If you demean government service you get low quality government employees, as we’re already seeing.

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    Jan. 6, 2014
    1:57 p.m.

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  3. Layla

    Jan. 6, 2014
    2:08 p.m.

    “Brain drain”? From the very people who got us in this mess? Really? We have entire families who have now lost their insurance and can’t afford Obamacare thanks to the “intelligence” in Washington.

    Brain drain….would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

    • Pragmatic Conservative

      Jan. 6, 2014
      5:31 p.m.

      Do you have any idea at all how Congress works? The majority of staffers you are now needlessly penalizing either work for Republicans who opposed the ACA, or weren’t even on Capitol Hill when the bill was passed. The “people who got us in this mess” left to work in the Administration or to take substantially more lucrative private sector jobs. If you feel the need to punish someone, limit this to the Members of Congress themselves, not their staff.

  4. Dirk Diggler

    Jan. 6, 2014
    3:21 p.m.

    Most Hill staffers work long hours, for average pay. If you constantly demean, demoralize, underpay staff you’re going to get Hill offices (whose mission is to provide constituent services) staffed by clueless children who are interns. You need staff with knowledge of the process, of the issues, and experience to provide support for elected members and constituents. It’s easy to bash young staffers, but it’s hard work and they don’t need cranky constituents berating them on the phone. You can probably thank the GOP for demonizing government for that.

    • Layla

      Jan. 6, 2014
      5:27 p.m.

      In case you haven’t noticed, those in the private sector are losing their insurance. Being a former Hill staffer for 19 years, I am aware of the dedication it takes to do this job. However, salaries have risen to an amount above what the average American OUTSIDE the DC metro area makes.

      When you have citizens who no longer can afford to pay for their healthcare, why should they pay for yours?

      • Pragmatic Conservative

        Jan. 7, 2014
        10:53 a.m.

        Many citizens couldn’t pay for healthcare before the ACA passed. Did you voluntarily decline your health benefits when you were on Capitol Hill in solidarity with them? It’s a bit hypocritical to worry about those who are losing their health insurance now if you didn’t worry about those who didn’t have it before. Obamacare is a total disaster, but it could have been averted if Republicans had been smart enough to provide market-based solutions when they were in power. Instead, they ignored the issue and created an environment where Obamacare could pass over their objections. It’s this same lack of foresight that is hurting the GOP now. Propose realistic solutions to problems and people will join you. Sit back and oppose everything, while offering few if any alternatives, and people will side with your opponents. If we (Republicans) don’t figure this out before November, we’ll have blown yet another chance to get this country back on track.

  5. danshanteal

    Jan. 6, 2014
    4:17 p.m.

    If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. We’ve had enuf of congressional perks.

    • Pragmatic Conservative

      Jan. 6, 2014
      5:34 p.m.

      What you call a perk is a fairly routine employer benefit, the same that every other federal employee gets and that most employers provide. Do you really think you’ll get smarter and more competent people on Capitol Hill if you pay them nothing and provide no benefits? How many businesses do you know that are successful using that approach?

      • Layla

        Jan. 6, 2014
        6:12 p.m.

        The law says that employers must provide insurance, it does not say those employees must be reimbursed.

  6. Pragmatic Conservative

    Jan. 6, 2014
    5:32 p.m.

    Sensenbrenner is right. Hill staff are being forced to join the exchanges that were designed for people who don’t have access to employer-sponsored insurance, so it was a stupid idea to do that in the first place. Taking away the employer contribution (and that’s exactly what it is, an employer-provided benefit just like most employers give – not a frivolous “perk”) is needlessly punitive. It will probably force many staffers to get federal subsidies because they won’t be able to afford coverage on what are truly meager Capitol Hill salaries (especially in a city as expensive as Washington, DC). So the net result is likely to be cost shifting from one federal account to another. Plus, what type of workers do you expect to get when you offer low wages and no healthcare benefit?

    • Layla

      Jan. 6, 2014
      6:15 p.m.

      The American people are being forced to endure this. Why should you be any different?

      • Pragmatic Conservative

        Jan. 7, 2014
        10:46 a.m.

        First of all, I’m not a Hill staffer (although I was one for many years), so I’m not asking to be treated any differently than anyone else. Second, you are asking Hill staffers to be treated differently from everyone else, why? No other federal employees are being forced into exchanges, and the law does not require private sector employers to force their employees into exchanges or to take away part or all of their health benefits. Thus, you are singling out Hill staff at the same time you are claiming they should be treated the same as everyone else. Do you see the contradiction?

        Don’t get me wrong, Obamacare is a disaster and needs to be repealed AND replaced. And Obama needs to be stopped from changing the law whenever he deems it inconvenient to implement as it was written (on this point Johnson is right – OPM overstepped its authority and Congress should be required to legislate any changes to the ACA). But taking punitive measures against Hill staff doesn’t accomplish anything other than fuel the childish desires of tea partiers to seek vengeance on anyone they perceive as opposing their point of view.

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    12:03 p.m.

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