Lawsuit to challenge Obamacare provision Grassley pushed

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By Dan Merica and Lisa Desjardins

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin is going outside of Congress to oppose one piece of Obamacare. He’s taking the issue to court

Johnson, an ardent opponent of the law, said he plans to file suit against the Affordable Care Act – President Barack Obama’s sweeping healthcare law that is also known as Obamacare – because he believes the law allows “members of Congress and their staffs to receive benefits intentionally ruled out by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”

“I believe that I have not only legal standing but an obligation to go to court to overturn this unlawful executive overreach, end the injustice, and provide a long overdue check on an executive that recognizes fewer and fewer constitutional restraints,” Johnson wrote in an opinion editorial published in the Wall Street Journal.

The senator’s suit is based on a provision pushed by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley. Back in 2010, when the law was signed, Grassley attached language to the bill that mandated members of Congress and their staffers would have to buy health insurance on the newly created health insurance exchanges. For lawmakers and staffers, this meant they were legally required to leave the health insurance provided through their employer – the federal government – and join the exchanges.

Like most large employers, the federal government pays for a sizeable portion of the premiums and by joining the Obamacare exchanges, those workers will ostensibly be getting a cut in pay by not receiving those benefits from the government. But before the law went into effect on January 1 of this year, the Obama administration ruled that congressional workers will continue to receive the employer contribution to help them buy their insurance on the exchange.

In his op-ed published Monday, Johnson argues that such employee contributions on the exchange “forces” him to “engage in activity that I believe violates the law” and “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 also argues that the Office of Personal Management, the arm of the Obama administration that issued the ruling “exceeded its statutory jurisdiction and legal authority” in doing so. Instead, Johnson writes that in order to make such a ruling, Obama would need “to come to Congress to have them change it with legislation.”

Not all Republicans agree with Johnson taking this aspect of the law to court. Another Republican from Wisconsin, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, called the move an “unfortunate political stunt” that was aimed at attacking “nothing more than a standard benefit that most private and all federal employees receive – including the President.”

“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,” Sensenbrenner said in a statement. “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.”

Although Johnson’s lawsuit tracks with his record opposing the healthcare law, the move also helps a Republican Party focused on making Obamacare – and the botched rollout the stymied the law in 2013 – the focus of the 2014 midterms elections.

CNN’s Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report