House can sue over Obamacare implementation
Federal judge deals blow to White House
The House has legal standing to sue President Obama over how he implemented his signature health care law, a federal judge said Wednesday, dealing a blow to the White House and breathing new life into a pioneering lawsuit that frequently evoked the Founding Fathers’ wishes.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, presiding in Washington, said Speaker John A. Boehner can pursue claims the administration injured Congress as an institution when it continued to dole out cost-sharing payments under the Affordable Care Act even though lawmakers had not approved them.
Judge Collyer said she wasn’t ruling yet that Mr. Obama has overstepped his constitutional powers but said judges can be called to referee the dispute because it involves Congress’ power of the purse.
“The constitutional trespass alleged in this case would inflict a concrete, particular harm upon the House for which it has standing to seek redress in this court,” Judge Collyer wrote.
The White House vowed an immediate appeal, saying the judge’s ruling was without precedent.
The case stemmed from a lawsuit filed last November that challenged Mr. Obama’s moves to twice delay the Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandate on employers and to reimburse insurers who have reduced co-pays and deductibles for qualified Obamacare enrollees as a condition of participating in the state-based health care exchanges.
Republicans said Congress never authorized the reimbursement money, and indeed specifically rejected an administration request for that spending, so by moving ahead anyway, Mr. Obama violated Congress’ constitutional power of the purse.
If the House succeeds on the substance of their suit and inevitable appeals, it would spell trouble for Mr. Obama’s namesake law. Nearly 6 million Obamacare customers with incomes between 100 percent and 250 percent of the poverty level rely on the payments, according to a recent analysis by Avalere Health, a D.C.-based consultancy.
House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan was already predicting victory Wednesday, saying the administration’s decision to forge ahead with the cost-sharing program was “one of the most lawless things” it has done.
“I’m confident the House will ultimately prevail, because no administration can spend money without congressional approval,” the Wisconsin Republican said. “It’s time that we start reversing the president’s overreach and give power back to Congress.”
Judge Collyer, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, said the House lacked standing to sue over delays to the mandate, because a chamber of Congress can’t show an actual injury from the way the president carries out the law.
But she said the House can pursue its lawsuit over spending, because that involves fundamental questions of separation of powers.
“This constitutional structure would collapse, and the role of the House would be meaningless, if the Executive could circumvent the appropriations process and spend funds however it pleases,” she wrote.
Mr. Boehner, who agreed to pursue the lawsuit last year at the prodding of conservatives, cheered the judge’s decision.
“I am grateful to the court for ruling that this historic overreach can be challenged by the coequal branch of government with the sole power to create or change the law,” the Ohio Republican said. “The House will continue our effort to ensure the separation of powers in our democratic system remains clear, as the Framers intended.”
But the administration said allowing these lawsuits will open the floodgates and force presidents to defend against a string of politically motivated attacks in court. They said Congress already has the power to stop the president by passing a new law.
“The law is clear that Congress cannot try to settle garden-variety disputes with the Executive Branch in the courts,” White House deputy press secretary Jen Friedman said Wednesday. “This case is just another partisan attack — this one paid for by the taxpayers — and we believe the courts will ultimately dismiss it.”
Judge Collyer insisted her opinion would “open no floodgates” since it was tailored to the case before her.
“Despite its potential political ramifications, this suit remains a plain dispute over a constitutional command, of which the Judiciary has long been the ultimate interpreter,” she said.
The administration argues that Congress showed it wanted the reimbursement money spent when it passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, and authorized the program.
But the House argued that the money has to be newly approved every year — and Congress explicitly refused to greenlight those payments.
“The constitutional trespass alleged in this case would inflict a concrete, particular harm upon the House for which it has standing to seek redress in this court.”
— U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer
“I am grateful to the court for ruling that this historic overreach can be challenged by the coequal branch of government with the sole power to create or change the law,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, who agreed to pursue the lawsuit last year at the prodding of conservatives.