(WASHINGTON) — In a partisan vote that marks a new escalation in the Republican confrontation with President Obama, the House of Representatives approved a resolution to authorize Speaker John Boehner to initiate litigation against the president over allegations he’s repeatedly overstepped his constitutional authority.
At issue is President Obama’s changing of the Affordable Care Act law related to its penalty against businesses that do not offer health care to their employees.
The provision — and the economic impact from its proposed penalty — was twice delayed by the Obama administration; critics allege that was done to shield Democrats from blowback at the ballot box. Because of the changes, the provision will now take effect in 2016.
In a floor speech during debate on the bill, Boehner said the vote was not about differences between Republicans and Democrats, but was, “about defending the Constitution that we swore an oath to uphold, and acting decisively when it may be compromised.”
“No member of this body needs to be reminded of what the Constitution states about the president’s obligation to faithfully execute the laws of our nation. No member needs to be reminded of the bonds of trust that have been frayed, of the damage that’s already been done to our economy and to our people,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said. “Are you willing to let any president choose what laws to execute and what laws to change? Are you willing to let anyone tear apart what our founders have built?”
Five Republicans joined a unanimous Democratic Caucus in opposition to the resolution.
Throughout the week, Democrats have complained that Republicans will potentially waste millions of dollars with what they called a “political stunt” that they believe will put the GOP on track to impeach the president.
“This lawsuit is frivolous. It is also wasteful and without merit,” Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, claimed during debate on the bill, which he voted against. “We must focus on critical legislative priorities instead of political lawsuits that will do nothing but waste millions of taxpayers’ dollars.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, who also voted against the measure, questioned whether the House even has standing to sue the president over what he termed “a policy difference.”
“The House cannot speak for the Senate which doesn’t agree with its position, and, therefore, cannot represent the legislative branch,” Schiff, D-California, said during debate on the bill. “This Congress has a remedy: if it does not like the way in which the president has implemented the Affordable Care Act, it can change the law. That would be a far better approach, one more consistent with our separation of powers than this expensive and ill-conceived lawsuit.”
Boehner will not bring the matter up for a vote before the Bipartisan Legal Advisor Group, known as BLAG. Instead, the next step will either be the House general counsel either files or hires outside counsel, according to a Boehner spokesman.
According to Boehner spokesman Michael Steel, the speaker and his team, “decided a BLAG vote was unnecessary, after consulting legal experts.”
“The BLAG will not have to meet,” Steel says. “We have greater standing if it’s an act of the whole House.”
A U.S. District Court judge will have the final word whether the House actually has standing to sue the president, but Wednesday’s vote to sue the president will almost certainly be one of the recurring soundtracks during the 97-day countdown to the fall elections.
Immediately following the vote, Rep. Greg Walden, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, sent out a fundraising email with the subject line “Give Obama Hell!” that sought to stimulate 1,500 new grassroots supporters.
The White House, meanwhile, reacted quickly, soliciting email addresses on its website but also making clear that the president will continue to take executive actions if Congress continues to block him legislatively.
“President Obama is ready and willing to work with Republicans in Congress if they decide to get serious and do something for the American people,” the statement read. “But he is also committed to acting however he can to help more working families — even as Congress won’t.”
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