As Republicans slowly retreat from their war on the Affordable Care Act, ultra-conservative Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson’s Obamacare lawsuit is threatening to turn into one more headache they would prefer to forget.
In January, Johnson filed a lawsuit against an Obamacare measure allowing the federal government to contribute to the premiums of lawmakers and their staff who acquire health plans through the exchanges. Since the filing, The Washington Post reports an additional 38 GOP lawmakers – including Tea Party senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) – have joined the suit, which is being represented by the nonprofit Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.
After much speculation concerning just how the lawsuit would be financed, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report now reveals a retainer agreement reached between Johnson and the institute. The agreement specifies that Johnson will use campaign funds to pay for the lawsuit once the conservative organization submits its legal bills.
In an amusing twist, however, this arrangement has raised legal troubles for Johnson. According to the Associated Press, the liberal watchdog group One Wisconsin Now claims that the senator failed to file the necessary forms required by state campaign finance laws. The group’s executive director, Scot Ross, now wants Johnson to report the specific details of the agreement reached between his campaign and the Institute. Ross also plans on filing a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, which can easily become a huge nightmare for Johnson if One Wisconsin Now’s allegations are accurate.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department has already asked a federal judge in Wisconsin to dismiss the lawsuit brought by Senator Johnson. As the Department points out, Johnson and other co-signers of the suit – some of whom have purchased their own private health insurance or have obtained coverage through a spouse’s plan – were never “directly injured” by the Obamacare measure and therefore lack legal standing to sue.
Further complicating the lawsuit is the opposition Johnson faces from other members of the Senate Republican caucus who think the lawsuit is frivolous and even potentially damaging to Congress.
With the exception of the lawmakers who joined the suit, the GOP has backed the Affordable Care Act measure that allows members of Congress and their staff to receive employer contributions to their health care plans. The concept behind the provision is certainly not new: Workers in the private and public sectors often receive similar health care subsidies.
From his home state, Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) accuses Johnson – who calls the employer contributions “special treatment” — of dangerously negligence in his decision to file the legal action. “Success in the suit will mean that Congress will lose some of its best staff,” Sensenbrenner warned back in January.
The congressman’s greatest fear is that without employer subsidies, congressional staffers will leave their jobs and force legislators to replace them with “recent college graduates who are still on their parents’ insurance.”
According to The Hill, Johnson recently suggested that Sensenbrenner’s position on the lawsuit has softened. Yet others on the right are remaining mum — another sign that the Republican attitude toward health care reform is more nuanced and careful than a year ago.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Want to keep up with the news from Capitol Hill? Sign up for our daily newsletter!