Op-Eds

Originally published in The Wall Street Journal, April 13, 2015

Early this summer the Supreme Court will render a decision on King v. Burwell, the case challenging the IRS workaround that allows ObamaCare subsidies to be paid through federal exchanges. Many on the right believe that if the justices rule against the administration, it would be the final stake in the heart of ObamaCare. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Millions of Americans would lose their federal subsidies and therefore be unable to pay for expensive ObamaCare coverage. In that case we can expect President Obama to declare immediately a crisis that can only be fixed by more government. As Rahm Emanuel, the president’s former chief of staff, once said, you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.

If the court rules against him, President Obama’s response will be diabolically simple and highly effective. He will ask Congress to pass a one-sentence bill allowing the subsidies to flow through federal exchanges. At the same time he will offer governors a contract to convert their federal exchanges into state exchanges with a simple stroke of a pen.

He will also mobilize his massive national political operation. It is easy to imagine the advertising campaign that will promote his simple solutions and viciously attack any opposition. Heart-wrenching examples of Americans who have benefited from ObamaCare—and there are millions who have, through taxpayer subsidies—will flood every TV channel.

The mainstream news media will ignore or contest the stories of those millions who lost their coverage because of ObamaCare and who now find health insurance very unaffordable. Without an effective response from Republicans, there is little doubt that the crisis would allow President Obama to permanently cement ObamaCare in place.

The first goal of a Republican strategic response must be to prevent President Obama’s cynical use of the coming crisis from working. If Republicans wait, we will have no chance of countering Mr. Obama’s response. We must be ready to come swiftly to the aid of those who will be victimized once again by ObamaCare if the court rules against the administration. Republicans must come together now, agree on a legislative solution, and take that solution to the American public immediately.

Second, our legislation must give America another “bite at the apple”—one last chance to repeal ObamaCare and replace it with patient-centered, market-based health-care reforms. We must set up the 2016 presidential election as a contest between health-care decisions made by Washington politicians and bureaucrats and reforms that put patients back in charge.

A number of Republicans in Congress have been diligently working together to develop a response and craft a solution, but they have not yet rallied around a single plan to offer as legislation. My own view is that the complexity of ObamaCare has done damage to America, so we should strive for simplicity. We must acknowledge the reality that subsidies cannot be ended immediately—neither practically nor politically—and a reasonable transition period is required. ObamaCare made the health-insurance market an expensive and uncertain mess. Our solution should make insurance more affordable and produce greater certainty.

Building upon these principles, and with time running out, I am introducing a simple plan that I hope can gain consensus. It combines a bill originally co-sponsored by 43 Republican senators in 2013, the “If You Like Your Health Care Plan, You Can Keep It Act,” with the elimination of some of the most harmful components of ObamaCare.

Unlike ObamaCare, it would enact a true grandfather clause. Americans could keep their current health-care plans, and the taxpayer subsidies available through ObamaCare would continue until August 2017. New enrollments in ObamaCare would be allowed, but only current enrollees would qualify for subsidies—the expansion of ObamaCare subsidies would end.

In exchange for this concession, which temporarily fixes the mess created by the sloppily written and unlawfully enforced ObamaCare, the American people should be allowed to reclaim some of the freedom ObamaCare denies them.

This bill repeals the individual mandate, ending the IRS’s enforcement of penalties—that is, taxes—imposed on law-abiding Americans who exercise their right not to purchase health insurance. It repeals the employer mandate, ending the forced shifting of millions of Americans to part-time work.

Finally, it eliminates the mandated coverages that have driven up the cost of health insurance and forced millions of Americans to lose plans that they liked and could afford.

Unlike the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, this legislation would live up to its name: “Preserving Freedom and Choice in Healthcare.” It would reverse many of the negative unintended consequences of ObamaCare and pave the way for its full replacement in 2017.

This is a plan Republicans should get behind now. If we wait until the ruling in King v. Burwell is handed down, it might be too late.

Mr. Johnson is a Republican senator from Wisconsin.

Originally printed in The Hill, March 9. 2015.

In such uncertain times, Americans are justifiably seeking safety and security. That extends to their lives in cyberspace, where threats are poorly understood and growing.

Our job in Washington is to work together to develop common-sense policies to enhance the economic and national security of America. As chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, I made that my committee’s mission. Security needs from national and border security to securing the homeland within our borders are all-important priorities for my committee.

Cyberattacks, in particular, remain one of the leading threats. Two years ago, then-head of the U.S. Cyber Command Gen. Keith Alexander described cyber thefts from private and public organizations as “the greatest transfer of wealth in human history.” That remains true, and the threat is growing and evolving, 

Today, nation-state actors and criminal organizations engage in cyberattacks with unprecedented frequency and sophistication. As FBI director James Comey said, “There are two kinds of big companies in the United States. There are those who’ve been hacked by the Chinese, and those who don’t know they’ve been hacked by the Chinese.” Cyberattacks cost U.S. businesses approximately $100 billion annually, and some — such as attacks on the industrial control systems that operate our critical infrastructure — can put Americans’ lives at risk.

Recent attacks such as those on the Department of Defense, the Office of Personnel Management, Anthem, Sony Pictures, Target, Home Depot and JP Morgan Chase have raised awareness of the cyber threats we face. Americans are demanding real cybersecurity, and Congress has an important role to play in facilitating, not dictating, this security.

One important way Congress can help is by enabling information sharing within the private sector and through the government. Companies must be able to share indicators of compromise and vulnerabilities to improve coordination of our nation’s defense against cyberattacks as quickly as possible.

To induce the private sector to share appropriate information, Congress must provide sufficient liability protections. If businesses face civil or criminal penalties for sharing cyber threat indicators, they will be reluctant to share.

We also must ensure that the government will not use information a company shares as a means to regulate the company.  The fear of backdoor regulations will also prevent widespread sharing. We need to hear from the general counsels for businesses of all sizes: Will proposals Congress develops provide your company with the needed assurances to share information?

Not only will facilitating information sharing help us prevent cyberattacks in the future, but also it will help us reach the bad actors who truly put Americans’ privacy at risk. I believe we can find common ground by balancing the need to share information and the need to protect people’s privacy. The worst thing we could do for Americans’ privacy is not taking action on cybersecurity at all.

Securing consumer data and notifying consumers upon a data breach is another important step. Notification allows consumers to take action to secure their data and defend themselves against fraud. But this, too, requires a balance.

Today 47 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have enacted laws requiring notification of security breaches involving personal information. Since many businesses operate across state lines, they are forced to navigate through this patchwork of state laws before notifying consumers.

Because each law is different, consumers in different states have different rights when a data breach occurs. This creates confusion and uncertainty for both small and midsize businesses and for consumers.

Congress must craft a national data breach notification bill. This bill must achieve a sufficient level of pre-emption so that we achieve one national standard rather than gaining a 52nd standard.

It is also important that a national standard does not impose such stringent deadlines that it would require companies to distribute inaccurate information or alert intruders that they are under investigation.

This need not mean watering down state laws. Consumers who face financial harm upon a breach should be notified without unreasonable delay.

I am hopeful we can work together to protect the privacy of Americans, the financial information of consumers, the assets of private businesses and our critical infrastructure. What we do will not be a panacea, but it will be a critical first step.

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.