House GOP Sues Over Obama’s Use of Executive Action in ACA
On Friday, House Republicans filed a lawsuit challenging President Obama's use of executive action to delay the Affordable Care Act's employer mandate, the Wall Street Journal reports (Crittenden/Kendall, Wall Street Journal, 11/21).
The legal challenge is the first of its kind to be filed by a chamber of Congress, according to the Los Angeles Times' "Politics Now" (Mai-Duc, "Politics Now," Los Angeles Times, 11/21). The suit names the Department of Treasury and HHS secretaries as defendants (Newhauser, National Journal, 11/21). George Washington University law school professor Jonathan Turley is representing the House in the case (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 11/21).
House lawmakers in July voted 225-201 to approve a resolution (H. RES. 676) authorizing the suit. The lawsuit asserts that the Obama administration's delay of the employer mandate falls outside the constitutional powers of the president. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who filed the suit on behalf of the House, has said the delay should have been authorized and enacted by Congress as the Constitution does not afford the president the power to choose what laws to change and what laws to execute. The suit focuses on changes to legislation made without congressional approval (California Healthline, 7/31).
The suit also alleges that Congress never provided the appropriations necessary for a program that reimburses insurance companies for discounts that they are required to give low-income enrollees. According to the suit, the administration had "no authority to expend public funds that have not been ... appropriated" for payments to insurers (Wall Street Journal, 11/21).
Boehner said Congress has an obligation to protect the Constitution, adding that Obama has "chosen to ignore the will of the American people and rewrite federal law on his own without a vote of Congress," which is "not the way our system of government was designed to work" (Wall Street Journal, 11/21). Referring to the suit's challenge to the administration's risk corridor payments, Boehner noted that Congress "never appropriated funds for the program" and that "the administration is instead unlawfully and unconstitutionally using funds from a separate Treasury Department account ... and thereby unilaterally altering the structure" of the ACA ("Politics Now," Los Angeles Times, 11/21).
White House spokesperson Brandi Hoffine said Congress should focus on passing legislation to help U.S. residents instead of "spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars pursuing a lawsuit that is without any sound legal basis" (Wall Street Journal, 11/21). Administration spokesperson Eric Schultz added that it is "unfortunate" GOP lawmakers were suing "the president for doing his job" during a time when U.S. residents want lawmakers to focus on other issues (Sink, "Briefing Room," The Hill, 11/21).
Meanwhile, Washington and Lee University Law School professor Timothy Jost said that if successful, the House's challenge to the risk corridor payments could increase the cost of health plans sold through the ACA's insurance exchanges. He said the payments currently make health plans affordable for U.S. residents with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level and if they "go away, basically those who are below 200% of poverty won't be able to afford health care, and health care providers are going to see their uncompensated care burdens shoot way up again" (CQ HealthBeat, 11/21).
Now that the suit has been filed, the House must prove it has standing to sue the Obama administration. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, leaving the standing decision to U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer, who was appointed by President George W. Bush. According to the Journal, even if it is ruled that the House has standing, legal doctrine notes that courts might not be the appropriate place to settle such "political questions" since Congress has the power to impeach the president if it feels he has acted outside of his powers (Wall Street Journal, 11/21).
Legal experts have said past court decisions established that Congress does not have standing to sue the president. In addition, they noted that presidents have discretion over how laws are enforced and that past presidents have delayed laws' implementations, meaning the lawsuit is likely to fail.
According to "Politics Now," it could take years for the suit to be resolved and the law's employer mandate could be fully implemented before a decision is reached ("Politics Now," Los Angeles Times, 11/21).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.