Federal Judge Sides With House Republicans in Obamacare Case

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Supreme Court Hears Arguments On The Affordable Care Act
Obamacare isn't popular with everyone.Photo: Andrew Harrer/© 2015 Bloomberg Finance LP

Republicans have scored a victory in their fight against Obamacare. On Thursday, Federal District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer ruled the federal government does not have the authority to fund a program provided for in the Affordable Care Act that helps lower-income Americans pay health-insurance deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses.

According to the New York Times, Collyer ruled in favor of House Republicans, who had taken the unprecedented step of suing the Obama administration directly over its interpretation of a provision in the health-care law through which it was to spend an estimated $130 billion over ten years, helping up to 7 million people with their health-care costs.

Collyer ordered that spending on the program be halted, but she suspended the order pending the administration’s appeal, so no immediate changes to the program are expected.

In the case, brought by former House Speaker John Boehner in 2014, the House argued that as Congress had not explicitly appropriated any money to this program, funding it constituted an unconstitutional exercise of executive power.

As Ian Millhiser explains at ThinkProgress, the legal question at hand in United States House of Representatives v. Burwell is whether these payments are different enough from the tax credits the ACA provides to help qualifying households pay for insurance (which Congress did agree to fund) that an appropriation for the former can be inferred from an appropriation for the latter.

An appropriation cannot be inferred,” Collyer decided, “no matter how programmatically aligned” these two expenditures may be.

The legislature isn’t exactly allowed to take the executive branch to court over the interpretation of a law, but Boehner got special permission to pursue this lawsuit by holding a nearly party-line vote in the House, and Collyer herself ruled last year that it could proceed on the basis that it concerned the appropriation of funds.

If this ruling is upheld, the government will still be able to operate the program, but it will have to find a separate source of funding. The Urban Institute estimates that a win for the House would increase the cost of keeping it running by $47 billion a year.

The administration and its backers expect an appeals court to reverse Collyer’s opinion. “They’ve been losing this fight for six years,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told the Times. “And they’ll lose it again.”