It’s an American political classic
The U.S. House of Representatives, by an almost-total party-line vote, has authorized Republican Speaker John Boehner to sue President Barack Obama on the grounds that he unlawfully delayed implementation of a provision in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
Read that paragraph again.
Yes. The Republican House, which has voted many, many times to repeal Obamacare, is now seeking through a lawsuit to force the President to enforce it in a more timely manner than the President wants to do.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Actually, nothing — given the politics of the situation.
The provision that the President has delayed (illegally, according to the House) is the requirement that many businesses pay a penalty if they don’t provide health care for their employees. That’s one of the requirements of Obamacare that congressional Republicans have also been trying to halt.
So what’s the deal?
It’s the timing.
President Obama has delayed the provision until 2015, a one-year delay. The reason? 2015 comes after the November 2014 general election, and a net loss of six Democratic seats in the U.S. Senate would hand over control of that body to the Republicans.
Political bean counters calculate that a net Republican gain of six Senate seats is indeed possible, maybe even likely.
The Democratic seats in apparent jeopardy are mostly in states where Obamacare, and Obama, are unpopular.
The last thing Democrats need this year is another reason for voters to pull a Republican lever in November, and slapping local businesses with penalties for not buying health insurance for their staffs could provide such a reason.
The delay wouldn’t make the penalties go away permanently — just for a year, until after the November election.
And that’s the reason Republican House members oppose Obama’s delay. They want the penalties handed down according to the law’s original schedule, BEFORE Nov. 4.
Both of Iowa’s Republican House members, Steve King and Tom Latham, voted to authorize the lawsuit. Both of the state’s Democratic House members, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack, voted against it.
If the lawsuit is actually filed, public debate will hinge on whether the president can legally delay a provision of a legislative act.
During President George W. Bush’s administration, the two parties argued just the opposite — Republicans claiming that Bush had similar executive powers and Democrats, including Sen. Obama, complaining that he was overstepping his bounds.
But constitutionality is not the real factor in the current battle.
Most legal experts believe the lawsuit will fail. Courts have been extremely reluctant to involve themselves in jurisdictional disputes between the other two branches of government (legislative and executive).
And there’s a question as to whether Speaker Boehner has “standing” to bring such a suit — that is, whether he can show that either he or the House is harmed by the delay, especially when they themselves have voted many times to cancel the Affordable Care Act.
And if the case is appealed by one side or the other, maybe several times, it could well be finally decided after the President leaves office in January 2017, in which case it could become meaningless and moot.
But in the meantime, a lawsuit fires up the bases of both parties: Republicans because they smell a chance to harass the President, and Democrats because they are outraged at the insult to Obama.
Financially, it’s a boon to both sides, with fewer than three months left until Election Day.
It’s a bizarre twist, but politically, it makes perfect sense.