Judge Rosemary Collyer said a provision of the law provides money to insurance companies that was never appropriated by Congress, violating the Constitution's declaration that "No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law." The provision at issue compensates insurance companies when they reduce out-of-pocket expenses for low income people covered under Obamacare. The government provides payments directly to Blue Cross, Aetna, and other companies.
After the Supreme Court ruled once again in support of the Affordable Care Act last year, some congressional Republicans were prepared to find a new hobby. "Perhaps it's time to move on from this particular topic," Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) said soon after the 6-3 ruling in King v. Burwell.
But Republicans, en masse, don't want to move on. What they want is some other vehicle to gut the health care system and limit benefits, and as of this afternoon, they may have one: NBC News' Pete Williams reports that a federal judge has sided with House GOP lawmakers in their latest in a series of anti-Obamacare lawsuits.
The ruling is on hold pending an appeal, so families won't actually suffer in the short term, though if this case is successful, it could have a meaningful impact.
Revisiting our previous coverage, how we got to this point continues to be a story unto itself. Then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) first announced his plan to sue the president two years ago, and a month later, his formally unveiled the legislation to authorize the litigation. A month after that, House Republicans agreed to pay a D.C. law firm $500 an hour, in taxpayer money, to handle the case.
Things went downhill from there. Republicans hired a law firm to oversee the litigation, but the firm changed its mind and dropped the case. GOP leaders then hired a second firm, only to learn a month later that it dropped the case, too. Eventually Republicans found a lawyer who stuck with it -- and at the district-court level, actually prevailed.
But what's the case all about, exactly? Much of the federal spending associated with the ACA goes to subsidizing insurance, but some of the costs go towards "cost-sharing reductions" to help families with their deductibles and co-payments. The reform law caps how much low-income consumers have to pay for these health expenses, reimbursing part of the costs to the insurance companies.
If Republicans succeed in scrapping these subsidies, struggling families will have a much tougher time paying for their medical care.
House Republicans have argued that this is less about hurting Americans on purpose and more about the Obama administration using funds that weren't explicitly allocated by Congress, which is illegal. The White House argues that the expenditures were "so tightly woven into the way Obamacare works that the appropriation was obvious, when the law is read as a whole."
Many observers expected the lawsuit to fail, not only on the merits, but also because GOP lawmakers had a tough sell in establishing standing. As the NBC report added, it's also unclear whether the U.S. House can sue the government over an interpretation of federal law.
But Judge Collyer, a Bush/Cheney appointee, nevertheless accepted congressional Republicans' argument.
The case will now go to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which may have the final word on the subject -- because an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court could very well lead to a 4-4 split so long as the court's vacancy goes unfilled.