At 10 a.m. tomorrow morning, Judge Rosemary M. Collyer of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia will hear argument on the motion to dismiss filed by the defendants in U.S. House of Representatives v. Burwell, et al., No. 1:14-cv-01967 (D.D.C.). The defendants are the Departments of Health and Human Services and Treasury, and the secretaries of those two executive branch agencies. The Administration is seeking to prevent the Court from reaching the merits of this historic case, which was authorized by an affirmative vote of the entire House of Representatives on July 30, 2014, and which the House filed for the purpose of protecting our constitutional structure.
The House’s underlying complaint asserts two sets of claims, both of which concern the Affordable Care Act, and both of which allege that the defendants have violated the Constitution. These violations run to the very foundation of the separation of powers doctrine that underpins our entire system of government because they usurp Congress’s powers to appropriate public funds and to legislate. The first five counts concern defendants’ ongoing payment of billions of dollars to insurance companies. These payments were ordered by the Administration despite the fact that Congress, which has the exclusive constitutional power to appropriate public funds for expenditure, (i) rebuffed the Administration’s specific request for an annual appropriation of $4 billion in FY 2014, and (ii) has never at any other time appropriated any funds for such payments. (Such payments to insurance companies currently run at approximately $300 million per month, and are estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to total $175 billion over the next ten fiscal years.)
The last three counts concern the defendants’ unilateral rewriting of specific provisions of the Affordable Care Act, namely, provisions that impose mandates on certain employers and establish a deadline by which such employers must comply with those mandates. The executive actions addressed in the Nullification Counts are estimated to cost federal taxpayers at least $12 billion.
Tomorrow’s hearing does not address the constitutionality of defendants’ actions. Rather, it only addresses the threshold question of whether the House has a right to have its claims heard in federal court, that is, whether a house of Congress has “standing” to bring this case. This threshold question is extremely important because Congress’s “Power of the Purse” is a linchpin of our divided power system of government. The power to decide which federal programs shall be funded, and which shall not, is fundamental to Congress’s ability to exercise a check upon the vast powers of the executive branch. Defendants’ argument that the court cannot hear the House’s claims in this case is extremely dangerous for our system of government, and for the American people whose liberty ultimately rests on the ability of the three branches actively to check each other. This is so because, if the executive can spend public funds in the absence of an appropriation from Congress (as defendants are doing here), and if the House is barred from getting into federal court to challenge this action (as defendants argue here), then Congress’s ability to use the “Power of the Purse” to check the executive largely disappears.
I will be joined in the courtroom by an experienced team of attorneys from the Office of the General Counsel of the House: General Counsel Kerry Kircher; Deputy General Counsel William Pittard; Senior Assistant General Counsel Todd Tatelman; and Assistant Counsels Eleni Roumel, Isaac Rosenberg, and Kimberly Hamm. Their collective knowledge of legislative and executive powers is unparalleled, and I am honored to represent the House with them.
We will make a brief statement following the hearing outside the courthouse.