The Republican-led House is set to take up a measure next week that authorizes Speaker John A. Boehner to sue President Obama over how he implemented parts of Obamacare, adding to the many legal squabbles that surround the health care overhaul this summer.
The House Committee on Rules voted 7-4 along party lines Thursday to advance the resolution despite Democrats’ complaints that the lawsuit is a “political stunt” designed to whip up the Republican base ahead of November’s midterm elections.
Rep. Pete Sessions, Texas Republican and committee chairman, insisted the action is necessary because Mr. Obama failed “to faithfully execute the law” and is therefore encroaching on Congress’ power to write laws. Without redress, he added, future presidents will have free rein to ignore the wishes of the legislative branch.
“Laws are not a mere list of suggestions from which a president can pick and choose,” Mr. Sessions said.
The lawsuit specifically targets the Obama administration’s decision to twice delay an Obamacare rule that requires large employers to provide adequate health coverage or pay fines.
Known as the employer mandate, the rule was supposed to take effect this year. Instead, it’s been delayed for employers of 50-99 workers until 2016 and will be phased in next year for larger firms.
Republicans say the delays were politically motivated, so that employers hoping to avoid the mandate may not slash jobs or cut workers’ hours until after the midterm elections.
“What if the president had said, ‘You know, kids on their parents’ insurance until age 26 is problematic, I’m going to suspend that’?” asked Rep. Michael C. Burgess, Texas Republican, referring to a popular aspect of the law.
Democrats say it is ironic that Republicans are concerned about how Obamacare is being implemented, considering they have voted repeatedly to scrap or dismantle the law.
They said it’s unclear how much the litigation will cost and accused GOP lawmakers of fishing for ways to ding the sitting president.
“The Republican leadership is about to embark on a lawsuit that is clearly a crass political exercise, no matter how you want to look at it,” said Rep. James P. McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat. “When you guys were thinking of suing the president, there was a time when you didn’t know what you were going to sue him over. And then you had a smorgasbord of options and you picked one.”
Committee Republicans on Thursday added a provision that requires quarterly reporting of how much money is spent on lawyers and experts, but they thwarted multiple attempts by Democrats to amend the resolution.
Democrats said their political foes are unlikely to gain legal standing to pursue their suit, so they should focus their energies elsewhere.
“At a time when our nation is facing serious challenges that require Congress to act, it is irresponsible to focus on partisan gimmickry at the expense of making real progress,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. “The American people will surely recognize this lawsuit for what it is: another attempt by House Republicans to shirk their responsibility to govern at a time when our nation can ill afford it.”
Of late, GOP-led efforts to repeal Obamacare have given way to efforts to chip away at the law and replace it with alternative reforms. But so far, the fractured House Republican caucus has not rallied around a unified plan.
“The discussions about Obamacare and what the replacement bill will look like continue — trying to build consensus around one plan,” Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Thursday. “Not there yet.”