The Sheboygan Press: Sen. Johnson reflects bitter divide on health care reform

Sitting in his still sparsely decorated Capitol Hill office, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson acknowledged he most likely would not be there if Democrats had not pushed through their health care reform bill two years ago.

When President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law on March 23, 2010, Johnson said that was his call to action. He launched a campaign based on his intense opposition to what he and other Republicans call "ObamaCare" and his concern over the federal deficit.

Since taking his seat in the U.S. Senate, Johnson, a former plastics manufacturer from Oshkosh, has been among the more strident critics of the health reform law. His concern over its cost was highlighted recently in a testy exchange he had with Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

As the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments Monday in a case brought by 27 states, including Wisconsin, seeking to overturn a cornerstone of the law — the mandate that everyone purchase health insurance — Johnson is among a cast of conservative lawmakers hoping the high court will do what they lack the numbers to do in Congress: repeal the law.

"To totally repeal it, would take 60 votes" in the Senate, Johnson said in a recent interview. "So I got my fingers crossed on the Supreme Court. That's why I'm going to go there on Monday ... got myself a ticket for the first session."

Few issues have created such an intensely partisan divide as health care reform. Repealing the law was a central theme for many Republican candidates, including Johnson, in 2010 and is likely to be a top topic in 2012. It was the signature issue for Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann of Minnesota who ended her campaign in January.

"I don't think I can remember any recent issue that more than a year after the legislation has passed it has remained as controversial and have divided the parties" as the health care law, said Charles Franklin, a visiting professor at Marquette University Law School and director of the Marquette Law School Poll.

As Friday's two-year anniversary of the law approached, Republican and Democratic political committees, as well as conservative and liberal special interest groups, engaged in dueling press releases about the failures or benefits of the law.

So far, Franklin said, Republicans have been more aggressive in criticizing the law than Democrats have been in defending it.

"It's easier to say it's a bad bill, I oppose it, we'll repeal it, than it is to defend it in all of its parts," Franklin said. "Within the Republican Party, there's near universal consensus that opposing and repealing Obama's health care reform is the universal position for Republican candidates."

The National Republican Congressional Committee began a telephone campaign Friday targeting Democrats Pat Kreitlow and Jamie Wall who are challenging freshmen incumbents Sean Duffy, R-Weston, and Reid Ribble, R-Sherwood.

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