WASHINGTON – More than a year after the Supreme Court upheld the central provision of President Obama’s health care overhaul, a fresh wave of legal challenges to the law is playing out in courtrooms as conservative critics – joined by their Republican allies on Capitol Hill – make the case that Obama has overstepped his authority in applying it.
A federal judge in the District of Columbia will hear oral arguments today in one of several cases brought by states including Indiana and Oklahoma, along with business owners and individual consumers, who say that the law does not grant the Internal Revenue Service authority to provide tax credits or subsidies to people who buy insurance through the federal exchange.
At the same time, the House Judiciary Committee will convene a hearing to examine whether Obama is “rewriting his own law” by using his executive powers to alter it or delay certain provisions.
The panel also will examine the legal theory behind the subsidy cases: that the IRS – and, by extension, Obama – ignored the will of Congress, which explicitly allowed tax credits and subsidies only for those buying coverage through state-run exchanges.
“We have agencies under this administration having an attitude that they can fix a statute, that they can improve upon a statute, that they can look at a statutes clear language and disregard it,” Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general who is bringing one of the cases, said in an interview Monday. “The president himself has said on more than one occasion, ‘I can’t wait on Congress.’ In our system of government, he has to.”
The subsidy lawsuits grow out of three years of work by conservative and libertarian theorists at Washington-based research organizations like the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
The cases are part of an continuing, multifaceted legal assault on the Affordable Care Act that began with the Supreme Court challenge to its central provision and shows no signs of abating.
“After the ACA was enacted and after the president signed it, a lot of people – me included – decided that we weren’t going to take this lying down, and we were going to try to block it and ultimately either get the Supreme Court to overturn it or Congress to repeal it,” said Michael F. Cannon, a health policy scholar at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute.
On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge brought by Liberty University, a Christian college in Virginia, to the “employer mandate,” which requires most companies to offer coverage.
In another challenge, the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative group, has filed suit claiming the law is unconstitutional because it was introduced in the Senate, not the House, where tax bills must originate.
The law also has spawned a separate raft of religious freedom cases over its requirement that employers provide insurance coverage for contraception to their workers. The University of Notre Dame plans to file suit today challenging an administration rule that exempts religious employers like churches, but not nonprofits, like schools, which may cover contraception through third-party administrators.
Meanwhile, the subsidy cases, if successful, would strike at the foundation of the law. Subsidies and tax credits, which could be available to as many as 17 million low- and middle-income Americans, are central to Obama’s promise of affordable care.