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House Republicans sue Obama over health care law

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio AP

After months of threats and delays, House Republicans on Friday finally filed their lawsuit against the Obama administration over the 4-year-old Affordable Care Act, charging that the White House had exceeded its authority on key elements of the law.

House Speaker John Boehner’s office announced the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia. It appeared to be choreographed to burnish the GOP’s narrative of President Barack Obama as a ruler who thinks he’s above the law.

The announcement came a day after the president, despite strong objections from Republicans, said he’d issue an executive order to stop deportations for 5 million immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally, and moments after the speaker vowed that congressional Republicans would respond to Obama’s action

“If this president can get away with making his own laws, future presidents will have the ability to as well,” Boehner said in announcing the lawsuit. “The House has an obligation to stand up for the Constitution, and that is exactly why we are pursuing this course of action.”

White House officials expressed disappointment about Boehner’s move.

“I think the American people want Washington focused on jobs and the economy,” said White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz. “The House Republicans choose to sue us, sue the president for doing his job, using taxpayer resources at the same time.”

The 28-page lawsuit starts off with grand sweep, declaring that it raises questions of “exceptional importance.”

“This case address fundamental issues regarding the limits of executive power under our constitutional form of government, and the continued viability of the separation of powers doctrine upon which the whole American fabric has been erected,” the lawsuit says.

Rhetoric aside, the suit raises several substantive points. It argues that the Obama administration is spending money that Congress hasn’t appropriated, and that the administration has “unilaterally” amended the employer mandate provisions written by Congress.

The employer mandate requires businesses with 100 or more employees to provide affordable health insurance for full-time workers or face a penalty of $2,000 per employee beginning next year. New rules allow these employers to cover only 70 percent of eligible workers in 2015 and 95 percent in 2016 and beyond. Employers with 50 to 99 workers have until 2016 to comply with the mandate or face similar penalties.

The health care law originally called for the penalties to begin in 2014, but the White House delayed their enforcement after complaints from business groups.

In addition, the suit challenges $178 billion that the administration will pay to federal marketplace insurers over the next 10 years to offset the carriers’ spending for “cost-sharing reductions” on behalf of low-income plan members.

Since Congress didn’t authorize the money – which reduces out-of-pocket spending for deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance – the suit claims it’s unlawful to transfer funds. Insurers must provide the cost-sharing reductions in order to provide marketplace coverage.

“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,” Boehner said. “That’s not the way our system of government was designed to work.”

Boehner, an Ohio Republican, had threatened to sue Obama since the summer. The House of Representatives approved a lawsuit resolution in July, but the march to the courthouse was delayed by Republicans’ inability to find lawyers willing to take the case. When Boehner first announced his intentions, several legal experts balked over what they saw as the unlikely prospect of the lawsuit’s success.

One potential impediment is the question of whether the House members have the legal standing to sue, which typically requires an individual to have suffered harm or the threat of harm.

Earlier this week, Republicans hired Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor, to take the case after two law firms dropped out. Turley, a University of Chicago and Northwestern University Law School graduate, is described on his law school website as “a nationally recognized legal commentator (who) ranked 38th in the top 100 most cited ‘public intellectuals’ in a recent study.’ ”

He’s been a go-to legal pundit on cable news networks in several high-profile stories that involve the law, including the impeachment proceedings against former President Bill Clinton.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., dismissed Turley as a creature of television.

“After scouring Washington for months, Republicans have finally found a TV lawyer to file their meritless lawsuit,” Pelosi said in a statement. “The fact is, this lawsuit is a bald-face attempt to achieve what Republicans have been unable to achieve through the political process. The legislative branch cannot simply sue because they disagree with the way a law passed by a different Congress has been implemented.”

The lawsuit might be costly. The House resolution authorized hiring outside lawyers, which is something Republican lawmakers previously did when they sought to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act before the Supreme Court.

As of last year, the House had authorized spending up to $3 million for outside legal assistance on the Defense of Marriage Act case. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ultimately overturned a key portion of the act.

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