House Republicans announced Thursday that their first attempt to sue President Obama for breaching the limits of his executive power will be over his decision to exempt businesses from his health care law’s employer mandate.
Making good on Speaker John A. Boehner’s threat last month, the Republicans released a draft of the bill to authorize Mr. Boehner to sue the president, in what Republicans say is an effort to rebalance the powers of Congress and the White House.
“If this president can get away with making his own laws, future presidents will have the ability to as well. The House has an obligation to stand up for the legislative branch, and the Constitution, and that is exactly what we will do,” Mr. Boehner said in a statement.
The draft resolution was introduced just hours after Mr. Obama offered his most vehement defense to date of his claims of executive authority on everything from gun control to higher education, saying it’s his “job” to act when he can’t find willing partners on Capitol Hill.
During a campaign-style rally in Austin, Texas, Mr. Obama openly mocked Republicans, and proudly touted the number of times he said he has had to act alone — a total of 45, by the count the White House released early in the day.
He also took direct shots at the lawsuit.
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“Sue him. Impeach him. Really? Really? For what? You’re going to sue me for doing my job? OK. I mean, think about that. You’re going to use taxpayer money to sue me for doing my job while you don’t do your job,” the president said. “I’ve got a better idea — do something.”
Mr. Obama also joked that “the best thing you can say about this Congress is that so far they have not shut down the government.”
Mr. Obama’s 45 executive actions this year include cracking down on carbon emissions from power plants; overhauling overtime pay systems for private workers; launching the “gainful employment” rule, which sets new terms on for-profit colleges and which institutions can receive federal money; raising the hourly minimum wage to $10.10 for all federal contractors; and establishing the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, which border security advocates say could provide a safe haven for Mexican drug cartels moving into the U.S. because much of the more than 500,000 acres will be set aside as wilderness and will be closed to vehicles and construction.
Some of those, such as the national monument designation, are clearly within Mr. Obama’s powers granted to him by Congress, but others appear to test the limits and have angered opponents of the president.
Critics contend that the gainful employment rule, for example, is a clear federal overreach and another instance of the government getting its hands into the education sector. The rule establishes benchmarks for student loan repayment rates and other metrics, which for-profit institutions must meet or risk losing access to federal loans and grants.
Aside from the legal issues, analysts said, the president’s approach of working around lawmakers and then bragging about it proves his inability to govern in a traditional sense.
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“I’d have to say Obama, like Jimmy Carter and others, doesn’t seem to have any interest or talent in sitting down — and it is a long and frustrating process — to work with the other side. There are some Republicans he could work with if he opened the door,” said Lou Fisher, a scholar at the Constitution Project who spent four decades as a specialist on separation of powers in the Library of Congress. “I don’t think we have any evidence that Obama has either the talent or the skills to negotiate. He’s a big speech maker.”
Mr. Fisher that “it doesn’t help at all” for Mr. Obama to continue boasting of his executive actions, if his true goal is to work with Congress and tackle major problems confronting the nation.
Republicans have scheduled a hearing on their lawsuit resolution for Wednesday.
Republican lawmakers talked about a number of areas over which they could sue, including immigration, environmental rules and a host of Obamacare-related moves. But the draft released Thursday by Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, Texas Republican, targets only Mr. Obama’s decision to delay the employer mandate.
Republican leaders believe it is the example of presidential overreach that has the best chances of success in the courts.
Under the 2010 health care law, large employers had a set deadline to begin offering health care plans by this year or face fines. Mr. Obama unilaterally announced he would waive that deadline.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest called the Republicans’ decision to move ahead with the lawsuit disappointing and said it was a waste of time and taxpayer dollars.