Lawsuit Against Obama Heard in House Hearing

July 17, 2014

Rep. Jared Polis

Rep. Jared Polis

WASHINGTON — Rep. Jared Polis used the arguments of a fiscal conservative to oppose the Republican House Speaker’s pursuit of litigation against President Obama. But the Colorado Democrat’s remarks were rebuffed by a powerful House Republican as disingenuous.

Aides to Speaker John Boehner have drafted a resolution that names Obama as a defendant in court for delaying a key provision of the Affordable Care Act. Last July, Obama announced that large companies could wait until 2015 to provide workers with a health insurance plan. Congressional Republicans accused the Obama administration of picking and choosing the parts of the law it wants to enforce.

At a hearing of the House Rules Committee, Polis seized on the irony of Republicans criticizing Obama for failing to implement the controversial law as evidence that Republicans supported a tax hike. “I’m not an attorney, but I don’t like this because Republicans will be raising taxes on businesses. I don’t like it. I’m not supportive of raising taxes,” Polis said, half in jest.

Polis’ remarks drew a sly rebuke from the Republican committee chairman seconds later. “It’s a good thing because I’ve never heard of a Republican who wanted to raise taxes,” Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas said.

Obamacare, the more common name for the Affordable Care Act, requires employers with 50 or more full-time employees to provide their workers with a health-insurance policy or face a fine of $2,000 per worker. Those employers must withhold and report an additional 0.9 percent of employee wages or compensation that exceeds $200,000, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

The exchange between Polis and Sessions occurred toward the end of a five hour hearing Wednesday. Four constitutional law professors debated the merits of Boehner’s proposed suit with the 13 committee members.

The litigation would target Obama’s decision to delay the enforcement of the mandate for large employers, but it reflects broader disgust within Republican ranks. Congressional Republicans have criticized the administration’s decision on an array of executive orders, such as the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the June 2012 order that allowed certain illegal immigrants who brought to the country illegally to obtain a visa or green card.

Sarah Palin, the Republican Party’s vice-presidential nominee in 2008, on last week cited the DACA order as the latest outrage the administration has perpetrated and called for Obama’s impeachment.

House Democrats referred to Palin’s essay indirectly in their remarks Wednesday. Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts said the proposed lawsuit was “red meat for the base (of the Republican Party).”

Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York, ranking committee Democrat, said House Republicans were acting similar to the eponymous character in the novel Alice in Wonderland who said “sometimes I think of six impossible things before breakfast.”

Sessions denied the lawsuit was political in nature. “This is not a political issue. This is not an issue that should pit Republicans against Democrats.”

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley elaborated on Sessions’ theme. Turley said that while he voted for Obama in 2008, he has become disturbed about Obama and former President George W. Bush’s tendency to aggrandize power in an attempt to create an “uber presidency.” Turley said. “I don’t question his motivation. I question his means. It doesn’t start with President Obama. It continued with his predecessor.”

Simon Lazarus, a senior counsel at the Constitutional Accountability Center, a progressive think tank, called Obama’s decision to delay the implementation of the employer mandate a “minor, temporary course correction that’s well within his job description.”

Lazarus added that the Constitution gives the president the power to faithfully execute the laws. “He was not going to be a cop on the beat. He was going to be a supervisor of the cops on the beat.”

Lazarus noted that Bush had delayed the implementation of a provision of the Medicare Part D law in 2006, which would have imposed a penalty on some beneficiaries if they signed up late.

“There is no material difference between these decisions of the Bush administration and the decisions of the Obama administration with respect to the ACA,” Lazarus said.

Democrats were eager to tell the national media that the proceedings were nothing more than a partisan exercise. Before the hearing, Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida walked over from his seat to a row of chairs where Washington Post reporter and columnist Dana Milbank sat. Hastings said committee members met in the white-walled chambers to eat a breakfast of “sweet things” before the ugly partisan business began.

Yet House Democrats did not act as if the lawsuit was frivolous. They trotted out two of the party’s eminence grises to testify against the lawsuit. Walter Dellinger was assistant attorney general under President Clinton. Lazarus was associate director of the domestic policy staff under President Carter.

The Observer asked Polis to explain the discrepancy between House Democrats’ dismissal of the proposed lawsuit as a political exercise and the legal heavyweights they called to testify. Polis did not address the question, saying he was preparing for his remarks at the hearing.

Sessions said he hoped the full House would vote on the lawsuit in the next two weeks before Congress embarks on a five-week recess.

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