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House Hears Arguments On Lawsuit Against President Obama

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WASHINGTON -- A key House committee heard arguments Wednesday about whether to push ahead with a lawsuit brought by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) against President Barack Obama, amid complaints from Democrats that the suit is a political stunt.

"This lawsuit is preposterous," said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee, which will vote next week on whether to send the resolution calling for the suit to the House floor. "It is a political exercise that, if history is our guide, will have little chance of surviving in the courts."

But Republicans contended that Obama has been acting in an imperial manner and taking the law into his own hands, and that it was up to the House to rein him in. Boehner's suit would allege that Obama has trespassed on Congress' power by delaying various parts of the Affordable Care Act.

"Under President Obama, the executive branch has increasingly gone beyond the constraints of the constitution," said Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), the chairman of the committee. "Rather than faithfully execute the laws as the Constitution requires, the president has instead selectively enforced the law in some instances, ignoring the law in other instances and in a few cases changed the law altogether, all without going through the required constitutional lawmaking exercise."

Democrats found a great deal of irony in the fact that Boehner wants to go to court to speed up the Affordable Care Act, a law that he and his fellow Republicans have battled for years to delay.

"The Republican House voted to delay it or repeal it at least 50 times, said it was the worst piece of legislation in the history of the republic," Slaughter said. "They shut down the government to try to stop it. Now they're trying to speed it up."

One witness who testified before the committee, Simon Lazarus, agreed that the contradiction would not be lost on judges.

"The propensity of members of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court, to view with skepticism the question of whether they should take jurisdiction over such a lawsuit, is likely to be enhanced by a perception that the last thing in the world that some of the proponents of this lawsuit really want would be to see faithful execution of the Affordable Care Act," said Lazarus, a lawyer at the Constitutional Accountability Center in Washington.

Still, Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School and another of the GOP's witnesses, said that the motivations of the parties are less important than what the actions actually are. Turley backed the GOP position that Obama is acting like a monarch.

"Some of President Obama’s statements come strikingly close to assertions by King James I that he could apply 'natural reason' to the alteration, and even the suspension, of federal laws," Turley said. "There may be good reasons for such changes. However, this is not a question of what to do, but how should such changes be made, and more importantly, who should make them?"

With the White House and lawmakers at loggerheads, Turley said the courts are the logical place to seek resolution.

"Rather than continue this unresolved and worsening controversy over the separation of powers, the House is seeking authority to bring the matter to the courts," Turley said. "That is precisely where such lingering questions should be resolved."

The Republicans' case was undercut somewhat by one of their witnesses, Elizabeth Price Foley, a law professor at Florida International University who earlier this year wrote a column for The Daily Caller entitled "Why not even Congress can sue the administration over unconstitutional executive actions." Foley said on Wednesday that opponents of the lawsuit have taken parts of her column out of context.

Democrats argued that the real motivation behind the suit, which has also attracted criticism from conservatives, is to mollify some of the more radical members of the party who would like to impeach Obama.

"This lawsuit is clearly being used to appease members of the Republican Party who will not rest until President Obama is charged with articles of impeachment. This is a partisan political stunt timed to peak in the House of Representatives in November, right as the midterm elections are happening," Slaughter said. "The House majority is suing the president simply for doing his job.”

One of the experts who testified on Wednesday, Walter Dellinger, a constitutional lawyer who served in the Clinton administration, said that Congress has plenty of power to rein in Obama, if it actually wanted to do so. However, he noted, in this case the two chambers of Congress are in disagreement, with the Senate backing the White House's steps to tweak the Affordable Care Act.

"We have ample authority in Congress, if the whole Congress will use it," Dellinger said, adding that if Congress is unhappy that President Obama is delaying parts of the ACA -- much the same way President George W. Bush delayed parts of the Medicare prescription law -- it could pass new legislation denying the White House flexibility in implementing the health care law.

Slaughter suggested that running to the courts when Congress was stuck was tantamount to embracing a more European form of government.

"That's how they do it in Europe, particularly in France," Slaughter said. "Now, why do you suppose that the majority party wants to turn our legal system into the French system? It seems to us that our 200-plus years of what we've been doing has worked very well for us."

Most Americans seem to agree with Slaughter and her fellow Democrats, saying in polls that the suit is a waste of time.

Dellinger mentioned a specific reason the case could be pointless: The delays to the ACA that Obama has implemented are scheduled to end before the Supreme Court would be likely to rule, should it take the case.

"Unless there were extreme expedition, this case would not get before the Supreme Court this term, this term that begins the first Monday in October. So it would be before the court in the following term," Dellinger said. "I assume it would have been dismissed as moot."

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

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