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A Wisconsin Divide Over Obamacare Lawsuit

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J. Scott Applewhite/AP

A Republican senator has filed a lawsuit against the Office of Personnel Management, claiming the Obama administration acted illegally when it exempted some congressional staff from having to enroll in the health insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.

In an op-ed in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson said OPM -- despite extensive debate over Hill staff coverage leading up to the law’s passage in 2010 -- issued a ruling in October 2013 that “forces me, as a member of Congress, to engage in activity that I believe violates the law. It also potentially alienates members of Congress from their constituents, since those constituents are witnessing members of Congress blatantly giving themselves and their staff special treatment.” 

Johnson described the administration’s decision as: “After groping for a pretext, OPM essentially declared the federal government a small employer -- magically qualifying members of Congress for coverage through a Small Business Health Options Program, exchanges where employers can buy insurance for their employees.” Johnson’s suit filed in Wisconsin district court would end the government’s contribution to congressional staff not enrolled in the exchanges. 

A fellow Wisconsin Republican, however, disagrees. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, issued a statement calling the suit “an unfortunate political stunt. I am committed to repealing Obamacare,” he said, “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. This will make it even more difficult to fight the president and his older, more experienced staff.” 

Charlie Clark joined Government Executive in the fall of 2009. He has been on staff at The Washington Post, Congressional Quarterly, National Journal, Time-Life Books, Tax Analysts, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and the National Center on Education and the Economy. He has written or edited online news, daily news stories, long features, wire copy, magazines, books and organizational media strategies.

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