Clash over ObamaCare, use of executive power intensifies

Clash over ObamaCare, use of executive power intensifies
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The Obama administration and House Republicans are clashing over the healthcare law in court, with the Justice Department blasting a GOP lawsuit as "unprecedented."

House Republicans are suing President Obama over what they call executive overreach, saying Obama is unconstitutionally spending money on an ObamaCare program Congress declined to appropriate money for.

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The Obama administration counters it does not need an appropriation because the funds were made permanent and mandatory by the Affordable Care Act. The funds in question are for “cost-sharing reductions” that help insurers lower out-of-pocket costs for low-income people.

The lawsuit raises questions about the separation of powers, with the administration accusing the House of trying to bring the courts into a political dispute between two other branches. 

Both sides filed new arguments to the court on Wednesday night that address the underlying facts of the case.

The U.S. district court judge is still determining whether the House has the legal standing to bring the case. 

The administration argues the House lacks standing because the case involves a political dispute where there is no particular injury to the House over any other person. But the House argues the facts are relevant in showing it is injured by being deprived of its constitutional power of the purse. 

Judge Rosemary Collyer appeared skeptical of the administration's push to dismiss the suit at arguments in May. 

The House points out in its new arguments that the administration requested an appropriation for the funds in 2013, only to be rebuffed by Congress.

“Given these alleged facts … it follows ineluctably that defendants’ actions injure the House,” the chamber's Republicans argue in their memorandum filed Wednesday, saying the administration infringed on the chamber's constitutional spending power. 

The administration argues it later realized the request was unnecessary because the funds were mandatory spending. 

Obama administration officials also say Congress never took action to block the funds and even passed a bill, the No Subsidies Without Verification Act, that was premised on the idea that the funds were available. That bill made the funds available only if the administration certified people’s eligibility to receive them had been verified.

“Thus, although the House seeks to focus on the Administration’s initial budget request for FY2014, the end result of the budget process for that year confirms a shared understanding that these payments could be made,” the administration wrote Wednesday.

Aside from these arguments over the substance, the administration argues the House should not be able to bring the case at all, saying it can block the funds through the normal legislative process if it wants. 

“It has brought this unprecedented suit, asking this Court to violate the separation of powers by wading into a dispute between the political Branches over the interpretation of the ACA and Section 1324, and to do for the House what the House will not use its legislative authority to do for itself,” the administration writes. 

The House, though, contends an unrelated Supreme Court case decided this week, over an Arizona redistricting commission, bolsters its standing arguments. The high court in that case said the Arizona Legislature could have standing because it said the commission deprived it of redistricting power. The House argues that is analogous to the House being deprived of its spending power.

The court in the Arizona case, though, explicitly said its decision “does not touch or concern the question whether Congress has standing to bring a suit against the President.”