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WI: Johnson’s bill takes aim at health-care law

By   /   September 11, 2012  /   No Comments

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party may have built the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  The U.S. Supreme Court may have upheld it.

But U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, aims to push back what he sees as an Internal Revenue Service power grab and knock a huge hole into the implementation of the federal health-care law.

Johnson’s Senate Joint Resolution 48, which he introduced in late July, about a month after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, goes after an IRS rule on “premium assistance credits,” which subsidize health-insurance premiums in health-care exchanges.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson

The senator and others see the IRS rules as an end around to the health-care law, which requires states to set up health care exchanges through which subsidies are paid out to cover insurance premiums. In 2016, the Affordable Care Act, for example, will provide a $10,000 insurance subsidy to uninsured individuals in households earning $64,000 per year, bloating the cost of government entitlements and debt, Johnson told Wisconsin Reporter.

The law tweak would push the subsidies and penalties for businesses that drop employee health-care insurance through federal channels, not through the states as the health-care act outlines.

Opponents of the IRS rule not only assert that it is unconstitutional, giving law-making — or law-changing — authority to unelected bureaucrats, but it forces states choosing to opt out of the exchanges back in.

Wisconsin is among several states, led by Republican governors, threatening to pass on setting up exchanges, effectively turning over that authority to the federal government.

Gov. Scott Walker, immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, said he would wait until November to do anything, hoping for a Republican victory in the presidential and congressional elections that would fulfill a GOP promise to “Repeal and Replace” the federal health-care law.

“When job creators and Wisconsin families are facing difficult times it doesn’t make sense to commit to a federal health care mandate that will result in hidden taxes for Wisconsin families, increased health care costs and insurance premiums, and more uncertainty in the private sector,” the governor said in a statement at the time.

Johnson’s resolution “disapproves and nullifies” the tax credit rule, attached to a law that, the senator says, a debt-ridden U.S. government cannot afford.

“Certainly our history shows us that once an entitlement is up in operation, the federal government is not particularly effective in stopping that entitlement,” he told Wisconsin Reporter.

More so, Johnson aims to slow down the implementation of the health care law, at least its centerpiece provision, that remains unpopular with a majority of Americans. A New York Times/CBS News poll found 61 percent of respondents want Congress to repeal the individual mandate or the entire law.

The poll, conducted in mid-August, surveyed 1,241 likely voters in Florida, 1,253 likely voters in Ohio and 1,190 likely voters in Wisconsin. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points. 

Johnson said the odds on total repeal are long, a move that would require a victory by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his Wisconsin running mate U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, and a sweeping victory in the Senate.

“So we have to use these half measures,” he said of his resolution.  “Unfortunately, that’s what have to resort to now.”

With a $16 trillion debt and a lot of concern about the eventual costs of insuring tens of millions of uninsured, Johnson said the goal is to try to “prevent as many Americans as possible to getting addicted to the health care law.”  Halting the IRS rule would, at the very least, stall the taxpayer’s bill, he said.

IRS Deputy Commissioner Steven Miller, however, assured  members of the subcommittee of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee in the Republican-controlled U.S. House that the agency does have the authority to set policy.

Outgoing Wisconsin Democratic U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl was direct about his opposition to Johnson’s resolution.

“It is not a resolution that Sen. Kohl would support,” said Kohl communications director Lynn Becker in an email to Wisconsin Reporter.

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-District 3, told Wisconsin Reporter, “I’ve never seen so many individuals in a major political party work so hard to make sure more people are left uninsured in this country than this modern-day Republican Party.”

He claims Johnson’s resolution would result in the single largest tax increase on American families, those who would not be eligible for the tax credit, affecting many of the 54 million uninsured.

Kind, author of the Small Business Health Options Program Act, a kind of model for the health-care exchanges, said the health-care law, contrary to Republican charges, is paid for through offsets, including delivery efficiencies that the Congressional Budget Office said would help reduce the budget deficit by $1.2 trillion.

Republicans have countered that the law banks on a lot of savings a long way from being realized, and demands increased government spending.

“I know Republicans are struggling to wrap their minds around that. They’re not used to paying for things: two wars, a prescription drug plan, a tax cut. It’s hard for them to grasp the prospect of pay-as-you-go,” Kind said.

“(Johnson’s resolution) is another attempt to undermine the Affordable Care Act.”

Johnson is joined by a growing chorus of voices who support his resolution.

“On behalf of the millions of members and supporters of our organizations, we are writing to offer our strong support for S. J. Res. 48, your resolution of disapproval of the IRS premium tax credit rule,” states an online petition.

“This rule amounts to an illegitimate backdoor rewrite of the president’s health care law and the imposition of an unauthorized tax on employers of up to $2,000 per worker. We therefore urge all of your colleagues to support S. J. Res. 48.”

As of late last week, Johnson said 46,000 letters and emails in support of the resolution had poured into senate offices.

He’ll need 30 senators to push the resolution to the floor, although he said he’s aiming for all 47 Republican senators signing on. Nullifying the IRS rule would take 51 votes, so he’ll need at least four Democrats to sign on.

“I’ll put my sales hat on and try to get all 47 senators, and then we’ll apply some pressure,” he said.

Johnson is facing an uphill battle.

Legislation tracking site GovTrack.us gives the resolution’s chance at enactment at 8 percent, noting just 19 percent of all Senate joint resolutions in 2009-10 were enacted or passed.

Contact Kittle at mkittle@wisconsinreporter.com.

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Kittle is a 25-year veteran of radio, newspaper and online journalism. In July 2011, Kittle joined Watchdog.org as bureau chief for Wisconsin Reporter. He has spent much of the past three years covering the seismic political changes taking place in the Badger State. Last year, Kittle joined Watchdog’s national reporting team, covering everything from energy policy to governmental assaults on civil rights. Beyond being published in Wisconsin’s daily newspapers and in multimedia news outlets, Kittle’s work has appeared on Fox News, and in Human Events, Reason Magazine, Newsmax and Town Hall. His special investigation into a politically charged John Doe probe, “Wisconsin’s Secret War,” was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze. Kittle has made several appearances on Fox News, including “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren. He serves as weekly politics commentator for Lake 96.1 FM in Lake Geneva, and WRJN-AM 1400 in Racine. His resume includes multiple awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, Wisconsin Broadcast Association and other journalism associations. Contact Kittle at mkittle@watchdog.org.