Federal district court judge Rosemary Collyer ruled today for the House of Representatives and against the Obama administration — holding that the administration unlawfully spent money that Congress did not appropriate for the sake of propping up a key Obamacare subsidy.
At issue was Section 1402 of the Affordable Care Act, a provision that required insurers to reduce deductibles, copayments, and other cost-sharing mechanisms for lower-income Americans sand provided for government subsidies to make up the insurer’s losses. But while Congress passed Section 1402, it did not subsequently fund the government subsidies. Indeed, President Obama signed into law both a continuing resolution and a consolidated appropriations act that did not fund Section 1402 payments. His administration made the payments anyway, and the House sued.
The court’s reasoning was simple. Constitutionally, the executive branch simply doesn’t have the power to spend money that Congress hasn’t appropriated. Or, as Judge Collyer put it:
Paying out Section 1402 reimbursements without an appropriation thus violates the Constitution. Congress authorized reduced cost sharing but did not appropriate monies for it, in the FY 2014 budget or since. Congress is the only source for such an appropriation, and nopublic money can be spent without one. See U.S. Constitution, Art. I, § 9, cl. 7 (“No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law . . . .”).
The court stayed enforcement of its order pending appeal, and Judge Collyer will not have the last word in this case. We’ll next hear from the court of appeals and then, perhaps, from the Supreme Court. This court fight has years to go.
This case is a useful reminder that the GOP House has, in fact, been fighting the Obama administration’s executive overreach. But in an atmosphere dominated by on-air and online demands for immediate victory, the years-long process of litigation is easily overlooked. There are times when executive lawlessness has no quick fix, and thus the failure to accomplish the impossible is hardly evidence of a lack of resistance.
I’ve had my own issues with GOP leadership decisions, but the narrative that they’ve done nothing but roll over in the face of administration pressure is completely false. This lawsuit is evidence. And so is the fact that congressional Republicans have blocked gun control, cap-and-trade, statutory amnesty, carbon taxes, ENDA, the public option, and a misguided Syrian war. Those who despise House Republicans may quickly learn how much they fought the instant the majority is gone.