A key House panel voted on Thursday to authorize Speaker John Boehner to sue President Barack Obama for failing to faithfully implement Obamacare.
The House Rules Committee vote was 7 in favor, 4 against. All the Republicans voted for it; all the Democrats voted against it. It brings the resolution closer to full House vote, expected next week before Congress adjourns for a five-week summer recess.
“The president has repeated encroached on Congress’s power to write the laws,” said Rules Committee Chair Pete Sessions (R-TX). “Laws are not a mere list of suggestions from which a president can pick and choose.”
The lawsuit is aimed at the president’s unilateral decision to delay some deadlines under Obamacare. Although House Republicans said they intend to target the employer mandate delay, they’ve broadened the language in the legislation to give them room to legally challenge other tweaks to the law. The new language also leaves room for them to determine what remedy to seek.
“They are casting a very broad net,” Tim Jost, a professor of health law at Washington & Lee University, said after reviewing the new language. “I think they want to leave the door open to challenging anything that is politically salient at the moment.”
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) called it “vague, unclear and broad language.”
Democrats fumed that the lawsuit was a “political exercise” aimed at ginning up the GOP base ahead of the November congressional elections. They warned that achieving legal standing for the lawsuit would dramatically enhance the power of the judiciary by opening the door for the executive and legislative branches to sue each other over disputes and let judges “become the arbiter of every conflict” between them.
“We have no injury here by the House of Representatives,” said House Rules Committee Ranking Member Louise Slaughter (D-NY). “If this lawsuit is successful … it will have set the death knell of our separation of powers. … This will not only lead to total stalemate but the atrophy of our legislative and executive powers.”
Democrats offered several amendments. One would require the House general counsel to disclose every seven days how much money is spent on the lawsuit. A second would require the House to say where the funds are coming from. A third would force the money to come out of the fund set aside for the special Benghazi investigation.
Republicans voted down all the Democrats’ amendments, arguing that disclosures of funds are already required quarterly and that the Benghazi probe was important.
“We will spend only what is necessary,” Sessions said.
The lawsuit is politically awkward for Republicans as it effectively demands Obama speed up implementation of a law they despise. House GOP leadership aides said they chose to target Obamacare because they believe it gives them the best chance of success in court.
“The irrationality among some in your side with regard to their hatred for this president … this is about politics,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA). “Some of the people on the Republican side continue to have sour grapes over the fact that President Obama was elected president twice.”