A House Republican legal challenge against President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform now has legs, as a federal judge on Wednesday ruled the lawmakers have standing to sue.
In a decision that potentially unsettles the future of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer said members of Congress met the threshhold of showing injury.
The House Republicans challenge the federal government’s plan to pay health insurance companies about $175 billion over the next ten years to help poor people pay for doctor and hospital visits.
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.
The lawsuit claims the Obama administration overstepped its executive authority by okaying the payments even though the money was never appropriated by Congress.
“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 reasoned. “Disregard for that reservation works a grievous harm on the House, which is deprived of its rightful and necessary place under our Constitution.”
House Republicans filed the lawsuit last November, following months of delays and criticism from Democrats. On Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner said he was “grateful” for the green light given by Collyer, who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush.
“The president's unilateral change to ObamaCare was unprecedented and outside the powers granted to his office under our Constitution,” Boehner said in a statement, adding that “The House will continue our effort to ensure the separation of powers in our democratic system remains clear, as the Framers intended.”
The so-called “cost-sharing reduction” payments go to marketplace insurers to help cut out-of-pocket costs, like deductibles and co-payments, for low-income health plan members. The health law authorized the payments, but didn’t specifically fund them.
When Congress implemented mandatory “sequestration” spending cuts, the Obama administration removed the subsidies from a list of programs that were slated for cuts and moved them to an Internal Revenue Service account that isn’t subject to the appropriation process.
The House lawsuit claims the transfer of funds was unlawful and violates federal separation of powers guidelines.
“Congress’s power of the purse is the ultimate check on the otherwise unbounded power of the Executive,” Collyer wrote
The Obama administration called for the lawsuit to be dismissed, arguing the House lacks legal standing to bring the case because they haven’t been injured. Collyer did side with the administration in dismissing some counts of the lawsuit.
“The Court stresses that the merits have not been briefed or decided; only the question of standing has been determined,” Collyer noted.