Op-Eds

During the week of July 4, as we celebrated our country's independence from the rule of kings and renewed our commitment to the rule of law, President Barack Obama explained his own unique conception of the separation of powers: If Congress wants to prevent unlawful administrative action, it should either pass a bill he likes ... or, "sue me."

Well, I tried to sue him and discovered why the president was confident he could offer such an arrogant challenge to a supposedly co-equal branch of government.

My lawsuit challenges a rule by the president's Office of Personnel Management that pretends the federal government is a small employer and allows members of Congress and their staffs to continue receiving tax-free employer contributions toward their health care. Congress specifically voted that such contributions would be unavailable so that members and staff would be in the same boat as their constituents when it came to Obamacare.

On July 14, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin dismissed my case on the legal technicality of "standing." As a result, the president has not had to defend his actions, at least not yet.

You would have thought this litigation would be unnecessary. When Congress passed Obamacare, the president got the law he wanted. According to his recent statement, there should have been no need for unilateral executive actions regarding health care.

Yet, to date, the president has made more than 20 unilateral changes to Obamacare to fix his unworkable law. The law says that the employer mandate shall apply Jan. 1, 2014; the president says 2015. The law says 50 employees; the president says 100. The law provides subsidies for an "exchange established by the state"; the president says established by the federal government, too. And on it goes.

The courts finally have considered the merits of that last unilateral change, and the president has not fared well. On July 15, in Halbig vs. Burwell, the U.S. District Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., struck down this interpretation, and while the Fourth Circuit Appeals Court in Richmond, Va., went the other way, even its ruling admitted the administration was on shaky legal footing.

The president's overreach is not confined to Obamacare. George Washington Law School professor Jonathan Turley has testified that "President Barack Obama has crossed the constitutional line between discretionary enforcement and defiance of federal law."

The president's administrative agencies have targeted ordinary Americans through Internal Revenue Service reviews of conservative groups, enacted the president's cap-and-trade policies through Environmental Protection Agency regulations and instituted ambush election rules for unionization through the National Labor Relations Board.

Earlier this summer, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down the president's unlawful recess appointments, marking the 13th time this administration's policies have been unanimously rejected by the court. And we are just beginning to see how the president's June 2012 memorandum on "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" has given unaccompanied children from Central America an incentive to embark on horrific journeys to the United States, believing that once they get here they will be permitted to stay.

The Office of Personnel Management rule is not the most egregious example of this administration's lawlessness, but it is one in which the president's unilateral actions were specifically directed at members of Congress, and thus it is one I believe I have standing to challenge. After all, it affected my health insurance, required me to take action to designate my staff and provided special treatment that drove a wedge between me and my constituents. It denied me — as a member of Congress and employer of staff — the legal status that Congress thought essential for each of its members and those who work for them.

If a member of Congress does not have standing in this case, who does? And if no one has standing to force the administration to faithfully execute the law, how can the rule of law be maintained?

Even in his order dismissing my lawsuit, District Court Judge William Griesbach recognized the importance of this case: "The violation alleged is not a mere technicality. It strikes at one of the most important safeguards against tyranny that the framers erected — the separation of powers. As James Madison explained ... 'The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands ... may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.'"

When I joined the Senate in January 2011, I raised my right hand, placed my left hand on the Bible and swore a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Defending the constitutional domain of the branch of government in which I serve is an obligation of that oath.

If his standing analysis is reversed, Judge Griesbach recognized that my case will challenge the president's executive actions head on. It continues to be a landmark opportunity to address the "constitutional tipping point" we find ourselves in today. To honor my solemn oath of office, I feel compelled to exhaust every legal recourse. I will file my appeal on Monday.

Ron Johnson, a Republican, is Wisconsin's senior U.S. senator.

Originally printed in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 6, 2014

Fifteen months ago, I asked then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton why she hadn't simply picked up the phone and talked to the Benghazi survivors to find out what had actually happened. Instead of being straightforward, she deflected this uncomfortable question with a now-infamous question of her own: "What difference, at this point, does it make?"

The answer to that question and the motive behind this administration's lies and coverup are finally becoming quite clear. The belated release of a Sept. 14, 2012, talking points email from deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes proves that senior White House officials were fully engaged in directing the coverup and perpetuating the lies.

According to the Rhodes email, the goal of the administration's Benghazi spin was "to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy." This was in spite of the fact that within hours of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, the administration knew — or certainly should have known — there was no protest.
Originally printed in The Washington Post, April 25, 2014

We recently visited Norway, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Moldova. In each country, our allies want a stronger immediate response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its ongoing subversion of Ukraine. They also believe, as we do, that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s latest acts of aggression require an enduring strategic response from the United States, Europe and NATO. It should be clear to all that Putin’s Russia has taken a dark turn. There is no resetting this relationship. We cannot return to business as usual.

Western countries had high hopes for our relationships with Russia after the Cold War and acted on that basis. We provided billions of dollars to help Russia’s transition from communism. We created new mechanisms for consultation. We expanded trade. NATO committed not to deploy significant military capabilities onto the territory of new alliance allies, even as it expanded. In short, the West sought to include Russia in the promise of a Europe whole, free and at peace — a vision we still believe would benefit all participants.
Originally printed in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, February 21st, 2014

Based on how much we spend, every child in America should be getting a world-class education, which would include connecting our classrooms to digital opportunities. To get there, the federal government doesn't need to spend more money — the Federal Communications Commission already runs a program called E-Rate that distributes over $2 billion to schools and libraries to purchase communications services each year.

What we do need is real reform in Washington and an end to the waste, fraud and abuse inherent in the current program.
Originally published in The Hill, February 2nd, 2014

Today, Americans access broadband Internet almost everywhere. We are using it to talk, view, tweet, post and pin at home, at work, in our cars and on the move.

As much as broadband is changing the way we live, it also challenges the decades-old assumptions behind the regulation of communications networks in the United States.

For years, the federal government regulated telecommunications providers as if confining them to lanes on a racetrack: one lane for traditional telephone service, another for wireless and yet another for cable. Each lane was assigned different rules by the government because it came along at a different time, operated with a different business model and utilized service-specific technologies.
Originally printed in The Wall Street Journal, January 6th, 2014

On Monday, Jan. 6, I am filing suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin to make Congress live by the letter of the health-care law it imposed on the rest of America. By arranging for me and other members of Congress and their staffs to receive benefits intentionally ruled out by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the administration has exceeded its legal authority.
Originally published in USA Today, July 14th, 2013

The dominoes have been falling for years: 36 municipalities have gone bankrupt since 2010. Last Thursday, the biggest domino yet fell. The City of Detroit – with debt of $18 billion-- filed for protection to reorganize under Chapter 9 of the federal bankruptcy code.

American taxpayers need to watch their wallets. Next will come a call for a federal bailout to alleviate Detroit's pain. Congress should act now to ensure taxpayers aren't forced to pay for decades of mismanagement by liberal politicians and public sector unions.
Originally printed in The Wall Street Journal, May 15th, 2013

In January, for the first time since the Benghazi terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2012, Hillary Clinton faced the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to testify about the attack. In response to my persistent questioning about what the State Department knew about the nature of the attack, the former secretary of state famously exclaimed: "What difference, at this point, does it make?"

New testimony by State Department whistleblowers and an Interim Progress Report prepared by five House Committees show what a huge difference it makes when members of the administration ignore repeated warnings of growing danger, deny requests for additional security and then attempt to cover up their negligence. That dereliction of duty ultimately resulted in the death of four Americans.
Originally printed in Investor's Business Daily, March 1st, 2013

Over five months ago, terrorists in Libya successfully assaulted the American diplomatic post in Benghazi. Four brave Americans died: Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.

On Jan. 23, I asked then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a simple question: Why didn't she just pick up the phone and call the survivors to determine what actually happened in Benghazi?

Instead of providing a simple answer, she displayed exasperation, launched into an indignant reply, and ultimately dismissed my question with one of her own: "What difference, at this point, does it make?"
Originally printed in Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 12th, 2013

Throughout its history, the federal government has properly used debt to help overcome threats to the nation and to build necessary and longstanding infrastructure. Much of the American Revolution was financed with borrowed money, as were World War II and the Cold War against the now defunct Soviet Union.

The interstate highway system, coastal ports, and the locks and dams that make our inland waterways navigable are examples of valuable debt financed infrastructure. Failure to incur debt to finance these worthy, constitutionally allowed activities would have made the establishment of our prosperous nation more difficult, or maybe even brought our history to a premature end.