Boehner announced Friday his plans to sue the President over his health care law
The news came right after Boehner criticized President Barack Obama's immigration plans
House Speaker John Boehner said Friday he has sued the Obama Administration in federal court over its decisions to make changes to the President’s health care law, which congressional Republicans argue were unconstitutional.
The move was expected for months – the GOP-controlled House of Representatives voted to approve the lawsuit in July. But Boehner had trouble retaining a law firm that would take the case because of the political furor over the controversial health care law.
“Time after time, the President has chosen to ignore the will of the American people and re-write federal law on his own without a vote of Congress. That’s not the way our system of government was designed to work,” Boehner said in statement on Friday.
He added, “if this President can get away with making his own laws, future presidents will have the ability to as well. The House has an obligation to stand up for the Constitution, and that is exactly why we are pursuing this course of action.”
News of the lawsuit came just minutes after Boehner held a press conference on Friday to respond to the President’s plan to circumvent Congress in order to make sweeping changes to the nation’s immigration system by executive order.
The one-two punch from Boehner marks a new era of tension between Republicans who will officially take over Congress in January, and the President who has signaled that despite his party’s losses in the midterms, he plans to proceed with his agenda without GOP cooperation.
After two Washington firms pulled out of commitments to represent the House in recent months, Boehner hired George Washington law professor Jonathan Turley earlier this week. Turley is an expert on constitutional law and has appeared on multiple television networks as a legal analyst.
Boehner and other top congressional Republican leaders are also contemplating a filing a separate lawsuit challenging the president’s authority to take executive action to give 5 million immigrants temporary status.
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The Obamacare complaint cites two specific actions by the Obama Administration regarding the implementation of the health care law. The first zeroes in on the decision to delay for one year the requirement that employers with over 50 employees provide health care coverage or pay penalties. The second maintains it was illegal for the Treasury Department to transfer of billions of dollars that Congress has not approved to insurance companies to share the costs of providing new health plans.
The case, filed in U.S. District court for the District of Columbia, names both the Secretaries of the Health and Human Services and the Treasury Departments, but not the President personally.
House Republicans agreed that Obamacare’s so-called “employer mandate” should be postponed. The House passed a bill last summer to do so, but GOP members maintain that the president’s decision to act unilaterally on the delay circumvented Congress’ role to pass laws.
Under the Affordable Care Act insurance companies who provide health care coverage to new customers are eligible for receive money from a government cost-sharing program to offer discounted deductibles and co-payments. But Congress never approved any new funds for this purpose, and the suit says that an estimated $3 billion will be paid out by the Treasury Department in 2014 is an illegal action. If Treasury continues to pay out money for this cost-sharing program a total of $178 billion could be paid to insurance companies over the next 10 years. The Republican lawsuit argues this ignores Congress’ power of the purse under the Constitution.
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The White House dismissed the lawsuit in a statement shortly after its announcement.
“Instead of passing legislation to help expand the middle class and grow the economy, Speaker Boehner and House Republicans are spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars pursuing a lawsuit that is without any sound legal basis,” said White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called the case “meritless” on Friday.
“The fact is, this lawsuit is a bald-faced attempt to achieve what Republicans have been unable to achieve through the political process. The legislative branch cannot sue simply because they disagree with the way a law passed by a different Congress has been implemented. It is clear, as one leading legal scholar put it, that this lawsuit is ‘an embarrassing loser,’” Pelosi said in a written statement .
Some constitutional experts question whether the court will actually move forward with the case from House Republicans, and point out that it could be difficult to demonstrate that the Congress was damaged as an institution by the Administration’s actions.
The U.S. Supreme Court already announced this month that it was reviewing a separate legal challenge to Obamacare – one focused on tax credits for those buying health care coverage on the federal insurance exchange.
On immigration, Boehner said that Congress “will not stand idle as the President undermines the rule of law, ” but gave no specifics on how congressional Republicans would respond to the President’s executive action.
Boehner told reporters that by moving ahead with unilateral action, the president chose to “deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reform that he claims to seek.”
In a less than five minute press conference on Capitol Hill, the Speaker said he told the President on Thursday “he’s damaging the presidency itself.”
Pressed if congressional Republicans would try to block the president’s executive actions by moving legislation to strip funding from federal agencies, Boehner sidestepped the question and instead said he was reviewing various actions with his members.
“The House will in fact act,” the Speaker promised.
Due to deep divisions inside the House GOP conference there is no consensus yet on how to try to block the president’s plan.
Many conservatives want to attach a provision to a must pass spending bill to strip funding for federal agencies to carry out the president’s plan. But the chairman of the spending panel argues that is impossible because the customs agency is self-funded through fees and doesn’t need congressional appropriations. And many Republicans on Capitol Hill worry another fight on a spending bill will lead to another government shutdown. Others are pushing to sue the president, or vote on censuring him.
The clock is ticking for Boehner – government agencies run out of money on Dec. 11.