Back in June, House Republicans announced, with deep regret yet great fanfare, that they were going to sue Barack Obama over his tyrannical usurpation of power. The suit was never actually filed; two lawyers the House had hired ended up quitting, and it looked as if it would fade away.
Then this week Republicans announced that they had found another lawyer to take the case, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, who says he’s a liberal but has become an intense critic of the Obama administration. Just four days later, the lawsuit has finally been filed:
House Republicans filed a long-threatened lawsuit Friday against the Obama administration over unilateral actions on the health care law that they say are abuses of the president’s executive authority.
The lawsuit — filed against the secretaries of the Health and Human Services and Treasury Departments — focuses on two crucial aspects of the way the administration has put the Affordable Care Act into effect.
The suit accuses the Obama administration of unlawfully postponing a requirement that larger employers offer health coverage to their full-time employees or pay penalties. (Larger companies are defined as those with 50 or more employees.)
In July 2013, the administration deferred that requirement until 2015. Seven months later,the administration announced a further delay, until 2016, for employers with 50 to 99 employees.
The suit also challenges what it says isPresident Obama‘s unlawful giveaway of roughly $175 billion to insurance companies under the law. According to theCongressional Budget Office, the administration will pay that amount to the companies over the next 10 years, though the funds have not been appropriated by Congress. The lawsuit argues that it is an unlawful transfer of funds.
Call me cynical, but I can’t help but think that the newfound urgency to move ahead with the suit has something to do with President Obama’s immigration order. If conservative Republicans aren’t satisfied with whatever confrontation their leaders manage to create with Obama over immigration, John Boehner can say, “Don’t forget, we’re suing him!”
But what do Republicans get if they win this suit? Not much more than a symbolic victory. The actual complaints in the suit were always strange — they’re suing Obama for delaying the employer mandate, a provision they despise. If they won, he’d be forced to speed up implementation of the mandate, even as Republicans are pressing to eliminate it altogether. And by the time the suit wends its way through the courts, the issue will probably be moot. The mandate for employers with over 100 workers goes into effect in January (though they are only required to cover 70 percent of their employees, and almost all companies of that size already provided coverage even before the law was passed). And the mandate for the mid-size companies goes into effect in a year. By the time the case is heard by a high court, the remedy it’s seeking will probably have already taken place.
As for the other of the suit’s complaints, on cost-sharing subsidies, if Republicans are successful in killing them it would mean that poor people would have to pay more in copays and deductibles. But unlike the subsidies in three dozen states that are at issue in the King v. Burwell lawsuit, which the Supreme Court recently agreed to hear, this provision isn’t critical to the law’s basic functioning. So apart from the satisfaction some Republicans might receive from making life harder for the working poor, even if they win this lawsuit they won’t have dealt the ACA a serious blow.
Legal experts who have looked at this suit haven’t found much merit in it, particularly on the claim about the employer mandate. Federal agencies frequently delay the implementation of far-reaching regulations while practical problems are worked out. But even if they prevail, all Republicans stand to gain is the ability to say that they beat Barack Obama in court. Which may be more than nothing, but it isn’t much more than that.