Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who used $8.8 million of his own money to get elected in 2010, was then the tenth wealthiest congressional member with almost $50 million, up from almost $20 million the previous year. By now, he’s gone down to thirtieth wealthiest in Congress but remains in about the top 5 percent within a group of very wealthy people.
One could call Johnson a “self-made” man because his wealth comes from his marriage to University of Minnesota sweetheart, Jane Curler. Her father, Howard Curler, started a company in 1958 with Robert Woods that developed innovative packaging—shrink-wrapped cheese and meat packaging, films for coffee and other products, etc. Almost 40 years ago, Curler created a business, PACUR, for son Patrick that sold its products exclusively to Dad. Son-in-law Ron Johnson joined the company in 1979.
Johnson’s wealth, and the way that he procured it, is not the problem, however. It’s his indifference to the other 95 percent of the people in the United States who haven’t found a wealthy spouse to give them the same opportunities. Recently he agreed with radio host Jay Weber in criticizing the use of “sad sack stories about who’s dying from what and why they can’t get their coverage” to promote “Obamacare.”
For the second time, Johnson has lost a lawsuit to stop congressional members and their staff from getting health insurance subsidies by arguing that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) required them to get insurance on their own. In the first judgment against Johnson, U.S. District Judge William Griesbach ruled that Johnson and his aide, Brooke Ericson, lacked standing to bring the suit because they had not been injured under an equal protection theory. Griesbach wrote, “The Constitution wisely cabins judicial authority by forbidding judges from deciding disputes unless the plaintiff is actually injured in some concrete, discernible way.” The George W. Bush-appointed judge added:
“The nation’s system of government doesn’t allow every controversy to play out in court. There is nothing in the Constitution stipulating that all wrongs must have remedies, much less that the remedy must lie in federal court. In fact, given the Constitution’s parsimonious grant of judicial authority, just the opposite is true.”
A three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals concurred with Griesbach after Johnson appealed the decision. “Respectfully, we do not see how Senator Johnson’s reputation could be sullied or his electability diminished by being offered, against his will, a benefit that he then decided to refuse,” Judge Joel Flaum, a Reagan appointee, wrote for the panel. The other two judges were appointed for Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton.
Johnson is frustrated because the judge failed “to address the important constitutional issues at hand” although addressing from these plaintiffs would be unconstitutional. After two failures in the courts, Johnson is reviewing the decision before deciding whether to drop the matter, ask the full appeals court to review the decision, or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) called the lawsuit “an unfortunate political stunt” that would cause top congressional staff to quit if Johnson won.
Three years ago, Johnson tried to convince voters of the ACA’s evils by claiming that his daughter’s heart surgery would not have been possible with ACA as the law. He claimed that he ran for the Senate to replace the “healthcare freedom” prior to the ACA. Dr. John Foker disagreed with Johnson’s story. On the other hand, the man who saved the life of Johnson’s daughter is “generally supportive” of the ACA but thinks it doesn’t go far enough. He said, “Unfortunately it was written by the insurance and drug companies, so not so great.” In addition, the surgery was performed at a government-funded medical institution and was developed under the socialized healthcare systems in Brazil and France.
After a GOP president lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and insisted on a multi-trillion-dollar war, Johnson wants to privatize medical care for veterans and run the VA at a profit. This was after he accused President Obama of not keeping enough troops in Iraq. With the Republicans in control of Congress, Johnson’s plan is moving toward fruition after Concerned Veterans for America, funded by the Koch brothers, released a report supporting privatization. Veterans would have a private insurance option, and one-fifth of future veterans might not be eligible for care under tougher enrollment standards. Real veterans’ groups oppose the plan, and this clip from the The Rachel Maddow Show discusses why privatization would be a disaster.
Health insurance isn’t the only thing that Johnson wants to take from people; he wants to force single women to marry. The new chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said that a single woman who wants to “increase her take-home pay” instead of having yet “another child out of wedlock” to increase her welfare windfall should instead “find someone to support her.” He may be projecting his personal experience on the poor.
The idea that women have more children to get more government benefits has been debunked by both Politifact and Washington Post because food stamps, health care and other government assistance don’t come close to covering all the expenses that come with having a child. Johnson also ignores the fact that almost half the children in the current generation will spend at least part of their childhood in single-parent household, most of them headed by women and most not receiving “welfare.”
A recent study shows that almost as many poor or near-poor children are in two-parent families as in single-parents ones. In addition, countries such as Iceland, France, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Britain all have higher nonmarital birth rates than does the United States, yet they all have far lower rates of child poverty. As author and activist Barbara Ehrenreich has argued, poverty is not a lack of character, it is a lack of money. The number of “traditional families” idealized by well-funded organizations and Christian ministries is rapidly shrinking although it dominates the U.S. imagination. Johnson and his fellow Republicans are contributing to the number of “poor single women” through their support of rising economic inequality, diminishing numbers of blue-collar jobs, lowered wages, and unbelievably high levels of incarceration in poor communities.
Dozens of studies with thousands of participants throughout the United States show that people’s feelings of compassion and empathy go down as their level of wealth increases. At the same time, higher levels of wealth lead to feelings of entitlement, deservingness, and self-interest, according to Paul Piff, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Social Behavior at the University of California, Irvine. Some of these studies are described here. One reason may be that wealth provides the luxury of less dependence on others, thus desensitizing a sense of empathy.
UC-Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner has found that this deficit physically appeared through the vagus nerve which is activated by caring. Images of suffering produced a vagus nerve response in lower-class people that didn’t appear in upper-class individuals. These are the people increasingly making decisions for society as over half the members of Congress are millionaires.
Conservatives who get very riled about these studies could look at the Republicans in Congress. Ron Johnson is just an example of conservative members who take from the poor and give to the rich.
Johnson, the senator who sued to stop ACA for congressional staff and sneered at the “sad sack” stories, is the same person who is afraid of backlash against the GOP if the Supreme Court gives the GOP what they asked for in stripping health care subsidies for millions of people in the United States. The biggest election disaster for the GOP would be in the red states where conservatives can’t—or won’t—set up state-run insurance exchanges if the Supreme Court refuses to recognize the federal exchange for those who live in poverty.
Also in Wisconsin, state representatives Jesse Kremer and Steve Nuss want food stamp recipients to show ID to eliminate the non-existent waste and fraud, forcing them to identify themselves as a lower class. The elderly can forget about asking someone to get groceries for them. Kremer also wants special government-run food pantries for people with food stamps.
The best Wisconsin story from the week: Gov.Scott Walker explained that the U.S. role in the world is “what makes us arguably the greatest nation in history.” This from the party and the person who questions President Obama’s “love for his country.”