House GOP Scores a Major Win in Obamacare Legal Challenge
Policy + Politics

House GOP Scores a Major Win in Obamacare Legal Challenge

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The GOP-controlled House scored an important victory on Wednesday in its long-standing complaint about executive overreach by President Obama.

A federal court judge in Washington, D.C., granted the House legal standing to bring a lawsuit against the administration for illegally spending billions of dollars on cost-sharing provisions of the Affordable Care Act without specific congressional authorization.

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In the latest in a long series of court cases challenging Obamacare, U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled that the House was justified in challenging the administration in spending money never appropriated by Congress to cover the law’s cost-sharing provisions, including reduced deductibles and co-payments for low-income people. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost-sharing subsidies totaled $3 billion in 2014 and would amount to $175 billion between 2015 and 2024.

Collyer, nominated to the court by President George W. Bush,` wrote in a 43-page decision that if that if the Republicans’ allegations prove to be true, then the House has been “injured in a concrete and particular way” by Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and that the improper spending can be remedied by the court.

“Neither the President nor his officers can authorize appropriations; the assent of the House of Representatives is required before any public monies are spent,” Collyer wrote. “Congress’s power of the purse is the ultimate check on the otherwise unbounded power of the Executive.”

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The ruling places in jeopardy an important component of Obamacare essential to enabling federal and state health insurance exchanges to offer reasonably priced insurance to millions of low- and middle-income Americans.

Under the law, the governemnt essentially pays insurance companies to significantly reduce the cost of deductibles and co-payments for many low-income families and individuals. While those people would still be entitled to much larger federal subsidies to defray the cost of their premiums, an adverse ruling by the court would strip away any funding for cost-sharing subsidies, making insurance coverage look more expensive to those lower-income people.

 “This case isn’t quite going to the jugular or the core” of the Affordable Care Act, Thomas P. Miller, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and an expert on the health law, said in an interview on Wednesday. “But it is still significant that a federal court judge has said that [the administration] had passed the normal stopping point of following the law.”

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Equally important, however, would be the political ramifications of a House GOP victory in court.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and scores of other Republicans have long complained that Obama has far exceeded his executive authority in the administration of the much-reviled Affordable Care Act, imposition of tough restrictions on emissions from coal-fired power plants and other measures lacking legislative backing.

The lawsuit challenging spending policies for Obamacare was filed last November literally a day after Obama announced he would use his executive powers to prevent the deportation of millions of illegal immigrants — a decision that touched off another furious political and legal battle.

Boehner said in a statement at the time that House lawmakers had no choice but to act to protect the Constitution. “Time after time, the president has chosen to ignore the will of the American people and rewrite federal law on his own without a vote of Congress,” he said in a statement.

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The White House was highly dismissive of the Obamacare legal action, according to The Wall Street Journal, saying that Boehner and the House Republicans were squandering hundreds of thousands of dollars in pursuing a lawsuit “without any sound legal basis.”

Many political observers at the time agreed with the White House that it was a frivolous, politically motivated lawsuit and that the House probably lacked legal standing to even bring the case. Moreover, it had taken the House the entire summer and fall to get its act together and find a law firm willing to take the case.

Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor and member of the House’s legal team, issued a statement yesterday saying: “The ruling today means that the United States House of Representatives now will be heard on an issue that drives to the very heart of our constitutional system: the control of the legislative branch over the ‘power of the purse.’ We are eager to present the House’s merits arguments to the Court and remain confident that our position will ultimately prevail in establishing the unconstitutional conduct alleged in this lawsuit.”

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The House GOP lawsuit also charges that the administration acted illegally by twice delaying enforcement of the requirement that larger businesses offer their employees insurance coverage or get hit with a penalty. But Collyer ruled that the House doesn’t have the right to sue over that issue.